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“I’ve Got Morons on My Team!” And Other Manager Myths

Posted by Elaine Varelas October 6, 2014 09:00 AM

If you’ve seen the 1969 classic, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” you may recall the scene where one of the main characters, in a state of exasperation, blurts out, “I’ve got morons on my team!” Does this scene remind you of any managers within your organization? Do you have managers who are frustrated, fed up, and fuming over the incompetence of their teams?

It’s common for TV, movies, and even memes about the workplace, to depict the extremes of office life: lazy workers, maniacal managers, and disenchanted employees. While seeing this onscreen can produce a chuckle, living it day to day can feel unbearable. There may be managers in your company who fantasize about solving their employee problems by channeling Donald Trump a la The Apprentice and just saying “You’re Fired!”

Yet, if managers are feeling this desperate about virtually every member of their team, the problem may actually lie with the manager. If a team is failing, it is often because there is something lacking at the top—direction, communication, or leadership. HR managers fielding calls from frustrated managers, may want to be aware of common management pitfalls that can set managers and their employees up for failure. If employees aren’t cutting it, it is often one of these manager-related reasons.

Inadequate training—If employees are continually making mistakes on a similar project, they may need more training in a certain software or system within the organization. Until they’ve mastered Excel, they most likely won’t produce stellar spreadsheets.

Unclear expectations—It’s important that managers make job responsibilities clear to all employees, and not just assume they know what to do. Managers need to be explicit not just about the tasks associated with the job, but timelines and nuances, as well. What needs to be produced by the end of the day? By the end of the week? Is 100% accuracy expected the first time around or are multiple drafts acceptable? Should client phone calls and emails be returned within 48 hours or by the end of the day? Not making these details clear can set employees up for failure. These expectation should also come directly from the manager or the employee will pick up messages—sometimes erroneous ones—from others.

In one office, the administrative assistant continually called in to say he was working from home and his manager became increasingly frustrated. Finally, the manager met with the assistant to ask what was going on and remind him that he needed to be in the office. The assistant immediately turned red in the face and exclaimed, “Someone told me it was fine to work from home! If I’d known, I would have been here everyday!” After this bump, and many years later, this duo is still a strong team, yet this lack of clear expectations almost led to someone being fired.

Unreasonable expectations
—Unclear direction can lead to frustration, but unreasonable expectations can lead to fast (aka shoddy) work. People who are overwhelmed at work often rush and make mistakes. Make sure managers have clear output guidelines. This is easier for manufacturing jobs (200 widgets per week), but less so for service positions. When possible, managers should have qualitative data to guide employee productivity.

Managers need to distinguish the difference between a one-time event and a pattern. Every time there is an issue with an employee, the manager can ask, “What is missing here (training, expectations)? What happened (one-time or pattern)? And why (Human error, working too fast)?” The manager should look to find the teachable moment. Competent managers can use mistakes to educate employees and learn from their own communication mistakes.

Managers need to be okay having these uncomfortable conversations with their teams. HR professionals can lend support if managers need an unbiased third party to look at a situation or need ideas about how to approach employees. A manager who says, “Help me understand how you came to this conclusion?” is more productive (not to mention less offensive!) that one who says, “What the *$%# were you thinking?

HR professionals also may need to step in if a manager is unaware or unwilling to see his or her role in the team breakdown. If a manager is exasperated with a whole team and everyone is struggling, it may be time to look at the manager—and time for HR to have that difficult conversation with the manager.

Often, disconnects within a team are linked to communication (or lack thereof). Others may be related to a manager’s temperament and how he or she handles stress. Look at the manager’s communication style. How is information relayed to employees? Is criticism instructive or inflammatory? HR managers can also check with peers and colleagues to see if they, as outsiders, notice some room for improvement. What is their take on the issue? What do employees have to say? Everyone needs development and sometimes it is the manager’s turn. If a team is failing, giving the manager more training and support can set the team up for success.

Most people want to succeed and do well on the job—managers and employees alike. Providing a clear description of the work that’s required, laying out expectations, and constantly communicating about the job can ensure your organization will never be “full of morons.”

In Developing Leaders, Companies may be Missing the Mark

Posted by Elaine Varelas September 8, 2014 09:00 AM

What makes a great leader? HR and other organizational executives often ponder this question when making hiring, development, and, advancement decisions. What are the qualities that the company’s top performers must possess to drive success? The traditional archetype of a leader is someone who is smart, tenacious, is a visionary, and has strong technical skills. Yet, these skills alone do not beget a true leader.

Over the past two decades, many business experts have written about “emotional intelligence,” or EQ, and its impact on an individual’s and an organization’s success. These so-called “soft” skills focus on interpersonal and social expertise, such as communication, self-awareness, ability to motivate, and empathy. EQ can serve as the basis for critical thinking and decision-making. EQ skills are equally important for HR professionals to consider in choosing and developing leaders. While some cutting-edge companies are already accounting for these skills in their talent management decisions, many more are missing the mark. Organizations that don’t value or hone these skills in their leaders will always lag behind.

Success on the job and high emotional intelligence are inextricably linked. According to Bradbury, Greaves, and Lencioni, authors of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, 90% of high performers also possess high EQ. Conversely, only 20% of low performers have high EQ. However, the authors contend that these skills can be learned even if they aren’t innate.

In making hiring and development decisions, most companies focus on the job-related skills needed for the position. This could be technical expertise—IT, software development, or writing. While these quantitative abilities are important, they don’t necessarily translate into leadership skills. In fact, as employees advance in their careers to management positions, technical merit typically becomes less important. If a software developer becomes a team leader, she will become more reliant on her ability to communicate, relate to and motivate others, and understand how her behaviors impacts her team, than her code-writing skills.

Fortunately, these soft skills can be developed. Yet, many organizations still focus a majority of their development dollars on the “technical” skills. This strategy can truly short-change your employees and leave your company at a disadvantage. Too often, employees with technical expertise are promoted to management positions without possessing the people skills to be successful managers. They are set up to fail and their team members fail too. While it is never too late to infuse emotional intelligence skills into a manager’s repertoire, it can feel like an insurmountable challenge, or at least a steep learning curve, for new managers to learn a plethora of skills while getting acclimated to a job and trying to lead a team. Often, these extremely talented people, not accustomed to these kinds of challenges, just quit—taking their technical expertise with them.

Other times, high-performing individual contributors are passed over for promotions because they lack soft skills. This can lead to decreased morale, frustration, or to valuable staff leaving the company.

That’s why it is vital for HR professionals to give equal credence to these skills in their development plans from the beginning. Some technical stars may balk at developing these aptitudes because it is out of their comfort zone. HR professionals need to be clear about the organization’s expectations. Even if, for example, a scientist in R&D claims he is content to stay in the lab, EQ skills are important. He still needs to work collaboratively with other members of the team. He may also need to communicate his knowledge and passion by presenting his research to clients, board members, or investors or serving as a mentor to others and passing along his expertise.

HR professionals must work with the leadership team to ensure that company leaders are on board with investing in these proficiencies. Emotional intelligence needs a place in the organization’s culture, so that employees know cultivating people skills is valued and will be rewarded. HR executives can then set expectations around these skills. Good judgment, motivation, self-regulation, and communication must carry the same weight as technical skills.

It is also wise for each employee to have a development plan in place that encompasses an array of technical and qualitative skills and is tailored to their unique needs and challenges. This plan can become part of the performance review process or happen off-cycle. Encourage employees to broaden their vision of themselves and their careers and aspire to their highest possible performance. The goal is to nurture both hard and soft skills to create better leaders and stronger employees.

An enormous part of what makes organizations successful is having leaders and employees who have also mastered the soft skills. Yet, many organizations overlook these abilities in their hiring, development, and advancement strategies. The best leaders have highly developed interpersonal and social skills. Organizations that invest in and value EQ as much as IQ will have the strongest leaders and be more successful.

The How, When, and What (and What Not!) of Assessments in the Workplace

Posted by Elaine Varelas August 4, 2014 09:00 AM

People make judgments about other people every day. For HR professionals, making judgments comes with the job description. They must determine who to hire for positions, who could benefit from training and development, and who is not the right fit for a particular manager or department. These evaluations are made with a mixture of research, interviews, references, and other methods of vetting candidates. But there is still a bit of intuition or even guess work that goes into making hiring, promotion, and coaching decisions. Yet, there are tools available, such as formal assessments, to help HR professionals make more informed talent management decisions.

As useful as assessments are, some employees and prospects are fearful of taking them. The process can be nerve-racking, and many people are concerned about what will happen with the results. What will the assessments divulge about me? Will it keep me from getting the job or promotion? Who will see it? Do I need to be read my Miranda rights before (this information can and will be used against you!)? Assessments can be powerful and revealing, leaving employees feeling vulnerable. HR professionals using these tools must proceed with caution.

Some assessment tools are fairly benign, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). The results of these categories of tests indicate a person’s “type” and there is no right or wrong answer. These is less inherent risk with taking these types of tests. However, there are some assessments, such as the FIRO-B that are more complex and can reveal more in-depth and compromising information about people. Many of these psychometric tests measure sensitive subject areas including intellect, honesty, biases, and emotional well-being.

It’s understandable that people are wary of taking assessments at work and concerned about how the information will be used. Privacy emerges as a vital concern. Who owns the information? How will it be used?

Organizations can slide down an ethically-slippery slope when it comes to using and distributing information about candidates and employees. Since these results fall under the purview of psychological testing, professional codes of ethics dictate that the raw information belongs to the individual who took the test. HR professionals must be the guardians and protectors of this personal information.

The problem is managers and company leaders want it. They paid for the assessment so they believe they are entitled to the results. They see it as key information in making training, development, and hiring decisions—and they’re right (insert slippery slope here)! Managers can have access to some information; it is a matter of what and how.

One way to ensure that the organization follows ethical guidelines is to hire an outside firm to administer and interpret the results. An assessment is only as good as its interpreter, so it is important that HR hire a reputable and proven outside company. That way, managers—and even HR professionals—do not have access to the raw data.

HR professionals should also create an assessment protocol making clear how the results will be reported and used. The results need to be packaged and communicated to all parties in a way that protects the individual, balancing employee privacy with the need for the organization to have information about the person.

Fortunately, access to raw data isn’t necessary to make informed talent management decisions. Well-written assessment reports can uncover overall themes or patterns, including aptitude strengths and challenges. It can pinpoint areas of skill that need to be built upon and identify where coaching will be most effective.

These emerging themes can be packaged to give information about a group or individual. For example, in a department, an assessment can determine where a team is lacking, such as technical expertise or management skills. For individuals, assessments can reveal skills deficits and help the organization better target coaching efforts. All of this can be gleaned from a comprehensive report, without revealing the test-taker’s individual responses.

If the organization does not protect the raw data, it is not only an ethical breach and privacy violation, it can destroy employee trust and morale throughout the organization. Leadership can quickly lose credibility with employees. It could also make the assessment process obsolete. Employees, fearing how the results will be used, will forgo honesty and answer the assessments in a way that they believe will please their managers.

HR professionals also need to make sure that assessments are just one factor—not the deciding factor—in making hiring and coaching recommendations. They cannot take the place of interviews, references, performance evaluations, and one-on-one contact with candidates and employees. Assessments are useful tools, but only if they are used for the right purpose and not given too much weight. By protecting employee privacy and using assessments in a way to benefit the organization, HR professionals can utilize assessments as valuable component in making sound talent management decisions.

Are HR Departments Becoming Obsolete? What HR Professionals Need to Know

Posted by Elaine Varelas July 7, 2014 09:00 AM

Is Human Resources as we know it becoming a thing of the past? Companies around the country are eschewing traditional HR departments and finding alternative ways to manage hiring, benefits, and other HR functions. What does that mean for HR professionals? If we tell our grandchildren we worked in HR, will they give us the same quizzical look evoked by the rotary phone and Walkman?

Why are HR departments falling out of favor with some corporations? Many of the traditional tasks of HR, such as payroll and benefits, can easily be offered as web-based, self-service functions or outsourced to other companies. The historical role of HR as the list-keepers, party planners and rule-makers of the organization is a dated concept, and HR teams still focused on these tasks face a clear and present danger of being eliminated.

With technology leveling the playing field for organizations across the board, company leaders are realizing it is their people and culture that set them apart from competitors. As such, there is a renewed focus on talent management strategies. Yet, some leadership teams view a traditional HR department as interfering with the ability to make quick, focused hiring and development decisions. Many organizations are looking to put these decisions directly into the hands of managers who are “in the trenches” and truly understand what type of person will benefit the team. By removing these key people decisions from a department in one part of the company and spreading them out among managers throughout the organization, leadership teams are aiming to imbue more ownership in the talent management process and create more nimble, dynamic, and focused hiring practices.

Some blame HR’s imminent demise on the name alone (we can’t keep calling people “resources!”), and have come up with different titles, like people support team, people analytics team, chief people office, culture chief—or no title at all! However, while the name can reflect the importance of the role within the organization, HR professionals and leadership teams should be less concerned with titles and more focused on how the team is adding value to the company.

If you are an HR professional, don’t lose hope! Before you ready yourself for a career in fast food service, or start working on those graduate school applications, examine your chances for survival. Are you a woolly mammoth or an elephant? Woolly mammoths, as majestic and fearsome as they were when they roamed the earth tens of thousands of years ago, became extinct. Elephants, a species closely related to the woolly mammoth survived the evolution process. HR professionals may take a cue from modern day elephants, and shed the fat and fur to survive. How do you need to evolve to stay in your career and provide value and leadership to your organization?

It is time for an honest assessment. What does your HR team do? Are you stuck in the past coordinating pay checks and vacation schedules? Are you heading up the talent management strategies at the organization? Perhaps you are doing a bit of both? Another important question is, what does the leadership team think you do? It is not enough that you believe your role has evolved in the organization. There must also be recognition and buy-in from the executive suite.

HR professionals of the future must be strategic partners, and a vital part of the leadership team. They must be able to provide a talent management vision and plan with the capability to help the organization achieve its goals. This involves assessing current talent—and how to develop them—to meet the future needs of the organization. It also requires a global view that encompasses recruiting and hiring those who do not already work with the company. The good news is that many HR professionals are already doing this at their organizations.

HR professionals are also the ideal leaders to take charge of efforts to sprinkle talent management decisions throughout the organization. They can train and support managers so they feel confident in making hiring and development decisions that will strengthen their teams. In fact, managers play a vital role in carrying out HR’s talent management vision and plan. The HR team cannot do it alone. However, they can provide a global outlook and consistent vision, and help managers stay true to the organizational culture and messaging. HR professionals can develop these skills and expertise in managers throughout the organization to create a more holistic, dynamic, and cohesive approach.

Letting go of the comfortable past and embracing the future is a necessary step in the evolution process. Heading up the talent management strategies at an organization forces HR professional into the forefront. For many who believed HR to be a behind-the-scenes career choice, center stage can seem daunting. Yet, to be effective in this evolved role, HR professional must be bold risk-takers, and even push back to leadership when necessary. It is in this role that HR professionals will become trusted partners, providing the most value to the organization and the most job security.

Is Your Talent Management Strategy Flexible Enough?

Posted by Elaine Varelas June 2, 2014 09:00 AM

Workplace flexibility—the when, where, and how employees work—is not a new term. A few decades ago, as employees made clear they wanted more balance between work and life, many companies accommodated (sometimes grudgingly) employees’ requests for altered start and end times, reduced hours, and job shares. Yet many leadership teams considered flexible hours a short-term employee perk instead of a sound business strategy. Years later, employers began to see a financial benefit to telecommuting, and they saved on office space costs as more and more employees worked from home. With laptops, the Internet, Skype, and countless software applications for sharing documents and information, today’s employees have the ability to work from virtually anywhere in the world at any time of day.

While providing a better for employees and achieving costs savings are significant benefits for employers, providing workplace flexibility can also drastically improve recruitment and retention efforts. In fact, flexibility can be the key to your organization’s talent management strategy.

In a tight hiring market, flexibility allows companies to find their talent virtually anywhere, eschewing office hours, time zones, and geography. Organizations can now land that superstar even though she lives in Duluth and refuses to relocate to Boston. Companies can also better retain the employees they already have. Those who need flexible hours—stay-at-home parents, people who are caring for children and aging parents simultaneously, older workers—and aren’t able to get a accommodating schedule at work, often leave companies that aren’t willing to be flexible, taking their knowledge and expertise with them.

Some organizations are still skittish about offering formal workplace flexibility programs for fear they will become unmanageable or negatively affect productivity. Yet, most of the research tells us this just isn’t true. A University of Minnesota study earlier this year on workplace flexibility followed hundreds of employees at a Fortune 500 company. Employees who were able to choose their own schedules reported greater satisfaction at work and engagement, and preliminary evidence found no differences in performance or productivity in the flexible work group as compared to a control group.

HR professionals can help company leaders identify and overcome the barriers to becoming a truly flexible workplace. One of the biggest hang-ups employers have is overcoming the “headquarters concept.” Employees no longer need to come to a brick and mortar building and sit in a cubicle from 9 to 5 to be successful. Giving up face time with employees can be a challenge, but trying to keep a traditional office intact drastically limits your access to talent.

Being flexible allows you to tap a global workforce base. If the ideal candidate is in another time zone, no problem! If a former, now retired employee, winters in Florida, that works too. The same goes for a person who may want to work second or third shift. But to secure this talent, leaders need to let go of the headquarters mentality.

HR Professionals also need to help their company leaders look at talent in a new way and help their managers adjust to a different method of managing people. HR professionals themselves may also need to alter how they hire people. When it comes to hiring, think in terms of projects, not just jobs. What skills are needed to complete specific projects? There are many talented workers who are looking for short-term, contract, or telecommuting work. Can you accommodate them? Managers must go into any meeting saying, “I’m not going to lose this talent. How can I make it work?” vs. saying NO right away.

It also falls on human resources to educate and support managers in successfully leading a remote, 24-hour workforce. Managers need to learn how to manage via technology. They also must focus on project management instead of people management. This involves evaluating employees by the end product, written reports, metrics, and deliverables, in lieu of attendance, face time, in-office behavior.

Communication is key to any flexible work arrangement. Make sure expectations are clearly defined. There must be agreement between manager and employee on how work and performance will be measured. When, how often, and how will contact happen? How will employee performance be evaluated? How much oversight does the manager need? Would the employee prefer daily written reports to stay on task or weekly phone updates? Whatever is decided, it has to make sense for the workplace, the team, and the manager and employee.

In most cases, new employees may need “frontloading” of management. HR professionals should let managers know to expect this phenomenon so they don’t sour on the process at the beginning. This management-heavy stage will most likely fade, but it is vital to the success of the relationship. If employees feel untethered at the outset, it can set the arrangement up for failure. Flexibility in how and when communication happens, especially at the start, will allow for a greater comfort level on both sides.

Successful workplace flexibility programs can be the linchpin of a comprehensive talent management strategy. Using flexibility as a recruitment and retention tool will keep your organization competitive as the talent pool becomes shallow.

Is Your Talent Management Strategy Flexible Enough?

Posted by Elaine Varelas May 30, 2014 01:49 PM

Workplace flexibility—the when, where, and how employees work—is not a new term. A few decades ago, as employees made clear they wanted more balance between work and life, many companies accommodated (sometimes grudgingly) employees’ requests for altered start and end times, reduced hours, and job shares. Yet many leadership teams considered flexible hours a short-term employee perk instead of a sound business strategy. Years later, employers began to see a financial benefit to telecommuting, and they saved on office space costs as more and more employees worked from home. With laptops, the Internet, Skype, and countless software applications for sharing documents and information, today’s employees have the ability to work from virtually anywhere in the world at any time of day.

While providing a better work/life balance for employees and achieving costs savings are significant benefits for employers, providing workplace flexibility can also drastically improve recruitment and retention efforts. In fact, flexibility can be the key to your organization’s talent management strategy.

In a tight hiring market, flexibility allows companies to find their talent virtually anywhere, eschewing office hours, time zones, and geography. Organizations can now land that superstar even though she lives in Duluth and refuses to relocate to Boston. Companies can also better retain the employees they already have. Those who need flexible hours—stay-at-home parents, people who are caring for children and aging parents simultaneously, older workers—and aren’t able to get a accommodating schedule at work, often leave companies that aren’t willing to be flexible, taking their knowledge and expertise with them.

Some organizations are still skittish about offering formal workplace flexibility programs for fear they will become unmanageable or negatively affect productivity. Yet, most of the research tells us this just isn’t true. A University of Minnesota study earlier this year on workplace flexibility followed hundreds of employees at a Fortune 500 company. Employees who were able to choose their own schedules reported greater satisfaction at work and engagement, and preliminary evidence found no differences in performance or productivity in the flexible work group as compared to a control group.

HR professionals can help company leaders identify and overcome the barriers to becoming a truly flexible workplace. One of the biggest hang-ups employers have is overcoming the “headquarters concept.” Employees no longer need to come to a brick and mortar building and sit in a cubicle from 9 to 5 to be successful. Giving up face time with employees can be a challenge, but trying to keep a traditional office intact drastically limits your access to talent.

Being flexible allows you to tap a global workforce base. If the ideal candidate is in another time zone, no problem! If a former, now retired employee, winters in Florida, that works too. The same goes for a person who may want to work second or third shift. But to secure this talent, leaders need to let go of the headquarters mentality.

HR Professionals also need to help their company leaders look at talent in a new way and help their managers adjust to a different method of managing people. HR professionals themselves may also need to alter how they hire people. When it comes to hiring, think in terms of projects, not just jobs. What skills are needed to complete specific projects? There are many talented workers who are looking for short-term, contract, or telecommuting work. Can you accommodate them? Managers must go into any meeting saying, “I’m not going to lose this talent. How can I make it work?” vs. saying NO right away.

It also falls on human resources to educate and support managers in successfully leading a remote, 24-hour workforce. Managers need to learn how to manage via technology. They also must focus on project management instead of people management. This involves evaluating employees by the end product, written reports, metrics, and deliverables, in lieu of attendance, face time, in-office behavior.

Communication is key to any flexible work arrangement. Make sure expectations are clearly defined. There must be agreement between manager and employee on how work and performance will be measured. When, how often, and how will contact happen? How will employee performance be evaluated? How much oversight does the manager need? Would the employee prefer daily written reports to stay on task or weekly phone updates? Whatever is decided, it has to make sense for the workplace, the team, and the manager and employee.

In most cases, new employees may need “frontloading” of management. HR professionals should let managers know to expect this phenomenon so they don’t sour on the process at the beginning. This management-heavy stage will most likely fade, but it is vital to the success of the relationship. If employees feel untethered at the outset, it can set the arrangement up for failure. Flexibility in how and when communication happens, especially at the start, will allow for a greater comfort level on both sides.

Successful workplace flexibility programs can be the linchpin of a comprehensive talent management strategy. Using flexibility as a recruitment and retention tool will keep your organization competitive as the talent pool becomes shallow.

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The Learning Curve—Professional Development for HR Professionals

Posted by Elaine Varelas May 5, 2014 09:00 AM

Great leaders never stop learning. Learning helps leaders anticipate, adapt, and innovate to move their organizations forward. Of course this makes sense in theory. However, it isn’t always easy for HR professionals to focus on their own professional development when the report deadline is tomorrow and three positions need to be filled yesterday. In fact, for many HR executives, the biggest barrier to ongoing professional development is their competence. They are so adept at meeting the organization’s immediate needs, they allow these daily demands to distract them from a long-range focus.

This myopic view of HR can drastically limit your organization’s success and your own career goals. Traditional HR functions, like benefits and payroll are becoming self-service, presenting an enormous opportunity for HR professionals to become talent leaders in their companies—making talent decisions not just implementing them. This requires a broader view and often an expanded skill set. Making this jump from implementer to decision-maker can seem intimidating, but it is the key to providing organizational value—and what will make you indispensible. Where do you need to expand your expertise to benefit the organization and energize your work?

Professional development is not just a seminar—it’s a different approach to work. It requires identifying your learning gaps and taking the steps to fill them. Here are some questions to ask yourself that may prompt your learning.

Am I strategic enough?
HR professionals don’t often use their time or capacity to address strategy. Becoming a leader means looking through a wider lens to anticipate and address the organization’s strategic needs and challenges this year, next year, and five years from now. Ask, “How can I bring value to the organization? What is happening with our competitors? What longer-term initiative can we adopt to position the organization for growth?” Think beyond HR to determine how your decision-making will impact the entire business.

Am I addressing the talent needs of the next generation of this organization?
Talent management is not just about filling positions. Successful HR professionals are able to recruit and retain the most talented people to meet the needs of the organization now and later. This involves identifying talent gaps. Where are the needs in the company? Where will growth be? How can hiring support that growth? Where will you find the people to meet those needs? How will you keep them? Talent management strategies should be global initiatives that incorporate innovative programs for recruitment, hiring, and retention.

Am I following the leaders?
While HR professionals often implement mentor programs within the organization as part of professional development and succession plans, it can be difficult for HR professionals to find in-house mentors for themselves. Look outside the organization for a virtual mentor. Who are the thought leaders in your field? Be sure to follow these innovators through reading books, blogs, and interviews. Stay current with the trends affecting your industry by staying involved in your professional organizations. Where do you find your HR inspiration? Does Google’s Laszlo Bock’s unconventional take on hiring spur your creativity? Maybe Felicia Field’s ingenuity in turning Ford Motor Company around is your motivation. Perhaps Hollie Delaney’s focus of hiring to fit Zappos culture of fun and service inspires your practices. Find your industry muse and let their innovation inspire yours.

Am I a good collaborator?
Becoming a master collaborator means more than just being a people person (which most HR professionals are by nature and practice). It involves becoming a high-level business thinker and strategic partner with other business lines—IT, finance, product development—to have the pulse of the entire organization and an inside line on talent needs.

Do I impact the culture?
Determine to what extent human capital strategy impacts the culture at your organization. Is it inextricably linked? Incompatible? At the very least, HR professionals should be holding leadership accountable to remain true to their cultural mission. Human capital can also define, shape, and influence the culture.

Can I measure my ROI?
HR professionals are often so in-tune with making sure that everyone else has their performance appraisals done, they often forget their own! This may be due in part to the “Cobbler’s Syndrome,” but it often is something more. Most HR executives want their organization’s leadership team to tell them they are doing a good job. Yet, they don’t always know how to define what a “good job” looks like. They may feel even more intimidated about measuring their performance. Stop using the excuse that it is too difficult to measure a return on investment for HR, because it’s not! Measure adaptability, access to talent, and innovation. Subject yourself to the same rigorous assessments that other employees undergo to prove your worth and demonstrate your value.

Learning, or professional development, is the key to moving HR professionals from transactional to transcendent. Expanding your skills and expertise by becoming a business partner, strategic thinker, and organizational leader will solidify your position in any company.

What You Don’t Know About Employee Engagement May Be Hurting You

Posted by Elaine Varelas February 3, 2014 09:00 AM

Employee engagement has become the holy grail of business. While not a new concept, it still remains elusive for many companies. According to a recent Gallup poll, only 30 percent of employees in the United States are engaged at work. Engaged employees have a strong commitment and passion for their work, are invested in the success of the organization, and become the thought and action leaders within the company. They work like owners, bringing increased energy, innovation, and productivity to the job. It is no wonder that organizations are looking for new and effective ways—and spending millions of dollars—to promote, encourage, and measure employee engagement.

We know engagement when we see it—that barista who is determined to make your skim mocha latte just right; and when we don’t—the cable employee who doesn’t care that you’re now two hours late for work. What is more difficult to determine is how to engender engagement. How does an organization create a base of engaged employees? And if you do in fact have engaged employees, how do you know?

Measuring engagement is an industry unto itself. Many large organizations hire consultants to assess their employees’ commitment, productivity, and passion. Tens of thousands of dollars later, HR professions get a boatload of results, not-so-great news about their current engagement efforts, and strategies for scrapping what they’re already doing and starting over. This information is often overwhelming and the work to fix it is daunting. In all of this costly measurement and evaluation, many organizations lose sight of a fundamental question: engaged to what?

Before asking, “Are our employees engaged?” and “How do we know?”, HR professionals need to push company leaders to define the engagement goal. The organization must first understand the “what” of engagement and then communicate that to employees. Typically, engagement stems from the company’s mission and culture, but it needs to be formed and morphed into its own force and must include where employees fit into the mix.

One of my favorite examples of engagement is from a janitor at a Boston-area hospital. He believed that his job was central to the mission of the organization: to help people get healthy and recover faster. From an organizational perspective, the janitor’s job was just as important as a surgeon or an administrator. His goal was clearly defined, his work was valued, and as such, he was highly engaged on the job.

In addition to understanding the “what” of engagement, organizations need to align their recognition and rewards systems to those goals. The janitor must be recognized for upholding the hospital’s goals—keeping the hospital clean to promote healthy patients. If hospital employees were only recognized for overtime and working long hours, there would be a disconnect between the goals and the rewards, which damages engagement.

HR professionals should look around their organization to identify their most engaged employees. Who are they? What qualities do they possess? Where are they in the organization? Beginning with your own employees and building off of their engagement is a less intimidating way to promote engagement throughout the organization.

How can an organization take the engagement of a handful of people and replicate it elsewhere? The key may lie with managers. According to Gallup research, managers take on the primary responsibility for employees’ level of engagement. Managers who empower employees, give them challenges and opportunities, partner with them to solve problems, and value their contributions produce engaged employees. Who are the managers of the engaged employees in your organization? What are their most significant management skills? What makes people want to work hard for them? What is it about the employee/manager relationship that is encouraging engagement? Who can manage engagement best at your organization?

It isn’t enough to discover the qualities a manager must possess to foster engagement. Organizations must also give managers the tools and training they need to keep employees engaged and them hold managers responsible for follow through. The expectations around engagement should be clear, measured, and rewarded. Employee engagement functions should be a part of a manager’s core assessed roles, and not something to be treated as a “bonus” skill. Managers hold the key to employee engagement, but need the skills, support, and backing of the organization to be successful.

Employee engagement is invaluable. An organization’s success or failure can hinge on employees’ dedication to their company and passion for their work. While hiring a consultant to determine your employees’ level of engagement and develop strategies for improving it is an option, it isn’t a necessity. Instead of trying to institute externally-derived engagement strategies, you can build off of your own organization’s internal successes. By working with your managers to promote and measure engagement strategies with their employees, you can develop engagement strategies that align more closely with your organization’s culture, mission, and goals.

The Match: From Fighting it out to Finding the Right fit

Posted by Elaine Varelas January 6, 2014 09:00 AM

It is time for the match. The battle lines are drawn and most employees have chosen their sides. In one corner, we have “The Boomer” : a steadfast, loyal, and wise team-player with a stellar work ethic. He may be a little slow with technology, but he can schmooze a client like nobody’s business. In the other corner, “The Millennial”: an exuberant, tech-savvy, multi-tasker, able to solve a nagging IT problem in a single all-nighter (but then she expects a promotion for completing that one project). Which generation will win?

Does this sound like your organization? In too many companies across the country, the workplace is becoming increasingly competitive, with snarky comments slung back and forth about the work styles of different generations. Human resources professionals can sometimes feel like referees or mediators between Boomers and those from generation Y (and don’t forget the specific needs and demands of the Gen-Xers out there!). It’s exhausting! Short of tweeting #whycan’twealljustgetalong?, what can HR managers do to create a work environment less focused on differences and one-upping one another and more on working together to get the work done? Instead of thinking of a match as a competition, think of it as finding the right fit in the organization for every person’s work style.

There are countless stereotypes that have developed about both groups. Millennials are entitled and self-centered. Boomers fight change and are slow to adapt. Yes, we know the problems, and even the benefits associated with the different generations, but what can HR professionals do with an employee base of such vast and varying skills, interests, experience, and abilities? Wait a minute! Isn’t that what HR people are always trying to do? Create both depth and breadth of talent? Perpetuating stereotypes, comparisons, and name-calling certainly doesn’t help an organization create a cohesive culture or advance its business goals. Yet, taking advantage of the range of experience and skills is a great idea!

Business leaders should also understand that the differences in generational work styles are not just personal quirks and preferences, but are spurred by societal and economic shifts. The Boomer may be dedicated to a single company, but that company offered advancement and security through the “graduate to retirement” work track. That career path is virtually non-existent today. Millennials cannot be expected to remain loyal to organizations that treat them as disposable or, at best, replaceable. Knowing that work styles are bred from global shifts can help take the “blame” off of groups of people and put generational differences into perspective.

HR professionals should also avoid assumptions and generalizations. Just because someone was born in the 1950s, doesn’t mean he or she is adverse to email or is harder working than the person next door who was born 40 years later. Treat each person as an individual and find out about his or her motivations, skills, work preferences, and goals. What do they care about? What excites them? Where do they want to be and who do they want to work with? Also, look at where in the organization their work style is needed and will be valued.

Next, talk to managers to determine what skills and experience will add to their staff. An IT department filled with tenacious, impulsive tech-wizzes, may need a methodical people-person to keep them on track. A sales team with flat-lining sales may need some fresh ideas or an innovative way to revive “the old way of doing things.” Managers also must be reminded to be open to all work styles and forget their personal likes and dislikes in favor of what is best for the organization. Instead of keeping groups separate or mixing generations just for the sake of cohesion, have a systemic approach to placing people where they will have the greatest business impact. Ultimately, different work styles can complement and enhance one another and create a more effective team.

It is extremely important that HR professionals not take sides. If they lament the downfall of the work ethic among Generation Y or poke fun at a Boomer’s aversion to texting they are only adding to the polarization of the workplace. If you drive out the Boomers, the organization loses their expertise, history, and wisdom—and the office may resemble a remake of Lord of the Flies. Without the Millennials, the organization could get stuck in the past and the workplace may become a silent movie. All work styles are needed to move the organization forward.

It is the first month of 2014, and last year passed in a flash. Before we know it, generation “Z” will be beaming out their resumes. While we don’t yet know what will define this next generation of workers, we can guarantee that it will be different from any of the ones before it. Changes will continue to come and those organizations that remain flexible, accommodating, and open to change will be able to utilize the skills and expertise all of the generations have to offer.

The True Spirit of Going Global

Posted by Elaine Varelas December 2, 2013 09:00 AM

American business people could learn a few things from Santa Claus. He has a presence worldwide, and touches down in countries in North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. He speaks multiple languages, has a strong brand identity, and the jolly old elf has cornered the gift-giving market. If only we could recreate that Santa magic in other business models!

I recently came back from a business trip to China, and besides a nagging case of bronchitis and a new affinity for American toilets, I also brought back with me some insight on what it really means to go global. While my fellow business travelers in my group did not arrive by sleigh, they did embrace global markets in a way many Americans (myself included) just don’t get.

Among the business people in my work group, there were representatives from at least 10 different countries, with vastly different cultures and upbringings. Yet, they all had a few traits in common: they all spoke at least two languages (some as many as four), they could ace a world geography quiz, and global business was a core component of their organizations’ business plans.

In America we talk the talk of global marketplaces, but it seems to be an addendum to our business strategy rather than part of the foundation. As a whole, Americans are still incredibly insular in terms of our culture, language, and business practices (our way or the highway!). This practice has worked for us since the Industrial Revolution. But as we’re seeing from the sluggish economy and the rate at which American businesses are growing compared to those in other countries—it may not be working for us anymore.
This narrow view of markets is depriving American businesses of much-needed growth.

Why is going global so important? First, it can vastly expand an organization’s business. Imagine the opportunities if you look beyond your own zip code, state, or region. When you erase borders, the potential clients and customers expand exponentially. Reaching these clients and customers can be done with a keystroke. We’re more connected than ever before. It is easy to talk with and “see” others, and share information via the Internet 24/7. What does this mean for businesses? Not only is establishing a global presence possible, it’s mandatory. Of course, this requires a change in mindset. Business as usual won’t cut it in a borderless market.

What does a change in mindset look like for an average business? It involves expanding your thinking when it comes to your business plan and goals. You need to move beyond borders to find markets. Who might be interested in your service or product if geographical barriers didn’t exist?

This is not just a practice for large businesses. Even small organizations need to go global. In fact, it could be the impetus to drive a small company to success. Fledgling companies need to expand their markets, and it is easier than ever with technology. In the modern global marketplace, big conglomerates no longer have the advantage—technology evens the playing field.

Of course, business leaders need to be aware of what is happening in other parts of the world and use this knowledge to develop short and long-term plans. It is not just a matter of finding countries on a map (something Americans are woefully unskilled at doing), but it’s about knowing how what is happening in other parts of the world—economies, cultures, epidemics, weather—may affect your business.

HR managers in particular need to be aware of what expanding globally means for hiring because that will drive hiring plans and talent management strategies. Who will get you where you need to be? Where is there a large talent pool? Who are the experts here and in those local markets?

Some organizations shy away from global business because it may alter their brand. In expanding to other markets, you must be able to recreate consistency as part of the brand, while also giving your product or service local flavor. This is why hiring experts is vital to success. Companies need to be able to adapt—not everything is the same in global markets. Yet, at the same time, organizations need to balance that with the challenge of staying true to the existing brand.

International businesses have infiltrated the US markets. I recently found out that a Chinese company now owns the building where my office is located! These companies aren’t just trying to keep up with us; they are trying to surpass us. We can respond by shutting down or branching out.

Hitch a ride on Santa’s sleigh and you may realize that the other side of the world isn’t so far away after all. Happy Holidays!

Disability Works

Posted by Elaine Varelas November 4, 2013 09:00 AM

Stephen Hawking, the world-renowned physicist, may be one of the most famous people with a disability. There’s no denying the extraordinary impact he has had on the scientific and business communities. While his condition has impacted him physically, it certainly has not limited his ability to excel in his field.

But when HR professionals think of their ideal candidate, the person most likely doesn’t have a disability. Many organizations inadvertently or consciously overlook this group of people. Even though many people with disabilities have skills and abilities that can benefit companies, some HR professionals don’t recognize the value of their contributions, or the situation makes them uncomfortable and they think it will be too much work to make it work for their companies.

According to U.S. Census information, 56 million people—or about 20% of the population—reports having a disability. The Department of Labor reports that those with disabilities make up the fastest growing minority group, with the aging population and returning veterans contributing to this spike in numbers. Unfortunately, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is more than double the national average. The good news is that this gap has closed somewhat in recent years as the job market has rebounded and hiring becomes more competitive. Savvy companies are actively seeking those with disabilities to fill key positions now to offset a hiring crunch in the future.

This is a sound business strategy since recruiting and hiring people with disabilities gives organizations access to a larger talent pool in an increasingly tight market. Inroads organizations make now in recruiting, accommodating, and retaining employees with disabilities will deliver a huge return on investment when the job market once again becomes fierce. Hiring those with disabilities also sends a message to employees and potential clients and customers that the organization is truly an inclusive culture that values diversity.

‪Is your company attuned to hiring people with disabilities? There are many legalities around hiring people with disabilities. The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) establishes minimum standards for accessibility and hiring. Yet, there is a difference between meeting the minimum standards and wanting to truly embrace diversity and include all people. Hiring this group of people requires a root commitment from the organization. It needs to be a part of the organization’s culture, vision, and mission.‬‬‬‬‬‬

What does this look like for organizations on a practical level? HR professionals, hiring managers, and managers need to be well-versed in how to make accommodations in the workplace. The best way to accomplish this is to invest in training to become familiar with the myriad of regulations related to disability and the most common barriers and challenges people with disabilities face in the workplace. The word “accommodations” may scare some employers as they imagine construction crews descending on the office to make significant alterations. Yet, many accommodations can be made through technology, such as phone systems, keyboards, or computer software. Others may merely require different office furniture or equipment or may mean permitting an employee to be accompanied by a service animal in the office. Job Accommodation Network (JAN), which is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, offers free, confidential guidance on workplace accommodations and disability employment issues. The site also lists disabilities and the corresponding accommodations at Organizations can also take advantage of tax credits for making their workplace more accessible for people with disabilities.

It is important to note that many individuals have non-visible disabilities, such as hearing impairment, lupus, and epilepsy. Yet, people with these conditions may also need accommodations to do their jobs well. People with the disabilities themselves are the best resource, as they are the experts on what they will need to be successful at work.

Organizations may also need to revamp their recruitment efforts to attract people with disabilities. There are many non-profit organizations and colleges that work to support employment of those with disabilities. Let college recruitment offices know about your commitment to hiring people with disabilities. The Workforce Recruitment Program (, an initiative through the U.S. Department of Labor, connects employers with college students and recent graduations with disabilities who are hoping to enter the workforce.

Organizations that are not actively seeking ways to recruit, hire, and welcome people with disabilities are missing out on a critical opportunity. If your company’s mission touts diversity and has a goal of an inclusive culture, hiring people with disabilities will help you to realize those goals. Inclusive hiring practices also make a strong statement to employees, clients, and customers about the organization’s values and commitment to innovation, flexibility, and meeting people’s needs. With the 24/7 workday, global workforce, and technology morphing how employees do their work, accommodating those with disabilities will become less of an imposition and more of another way to meet employers needs and adapt to a dynamic global economy.

Talent Wars—Rethinking Talent Management for Future Success

Posted by Elaine Varelas October 7, 2013 09:00 AM

Many HR professionals may consider talent wars to be light years away. A still halting economy and inboxes filled with job seeker resumes may reinforce this notion. However, savvy companies are always thinking strategically about talent management, in good and in challenging times. Many organizations, when they need to fill a position, list the responsibilities of the job and match those with candidates’ experience. They keep a narrow focus that fulfills the requirements of a certain job at that point in time. Some HR teams do not look long term or consider the company culture when making hiring decisions. Unfortunately, this short-sighted view of hiring eliminates groups of talented potential employees from the start.

Talent management requires taking a broader view of hiring and a closer look at non-traditional pockets of talent when necessary. Your next key hire may not embody the traditional 30-something, 9-to-5 in the office package. Looking outside of your organization’s comfort zone can open up your company to a plethora of skilled and experienced workers, and position you to truly compete in the talent wars of the future.

One area that is too often overlooked by HR professionals is the older worker. Unfortunately for them, workers over 50 have higher rates of availability (in large part because they tend to be out of work longer). But their loss is a hiring manager’s gain—not just in availability, but in desirability too. If you asked a hiring manager what he or she is looking for in an employee, the answer would most likely be: someone with skills, cultural savvy, experience, adaptability, and flexibility. Older workers have all of that, plus they’ve most likely “been there, done that” with office politics and back-stabbing, removing that annoying employee productivity-busting habit.

Ironically, while most people are working well beyond the traditional retirement age of 65 and staying active and healthy through those years, the commonly accepted definition of the “older worker” is getting progressively younger. But companies that overlook candidates in their 50s and 60s are being myopic. Most job stints today are expected to be between three and five years, so even if you hired a 60-year-old person, he or she will most likely work beyond the average post. It’s impossible to predict talent needs 10 years out, and 5 can even be a stretch. Your talent needs will change, and it is short-sighted to believe that older workers cannot fit into your 3-5 year hiring plan. Take a cue from politics where the average age of someone holding public office is much higher. Older employees embody experience, depth, and stability.

When organizations look at their business and hiring goals and define what they need in an employee, they should be flexible about what that might look like. This is the real difference between recruiting and talent acquisition.

Another pocket of underused talent is the permanent part-time and contract worker. Most employees go the traditional route, only hiring full-time, permanent people because a traditional worker is easier for the traditional manager to manage. Many organizations are reluctant to take this approach to talent management, because it requires more flexible and innovative management techniques, and many managers don’t feel they have the skills. It is easier for managers to get their heads around full-time, in-office workers, and harder to work with a virtual, global, or part-time workforce. HR professionals can help managers in their companies develop the skills they need to manage a more diverse workforce, and managers can develop management techniques that are based on employees reaching measureable milestones instead of face time. It is possible to manage different people in different ways by focusing on goals, objectives, and deliverables.

The advantage of hiring permanent part-time and contract workers is that organizations can address their current needs without locking themselves into a long-term contract. Contract workers can be hired to tackle specific short-term projects and HR managers do not need to reassign them when the project is finished. There are different ways to hire contract and part-time workers. If organizations are wary of adding headcount, they can go through contract companies that take on the risk of hiring, insuring, and providing benefits to their workers.

The key is looking at what needs to be done in different ways. Most of us understand our investment portfolios: we assess, cull, and rearrange our finances to best meet the changing needs of the market and our lives. HR professionals can look at employee portfolios in the same manner. Doing so can help organizations better adapt to dynamic, changing work environments. Having a mix of full-time, part-time, contract, virtual, global and flex-time employees can best meet a company’s talent needs.

Who are the people you need? Are there places you haven’t looked to meet those needs? Are you willing to be flexible and possibly change the way you manage people to attract and accommodate these employees? This is how to recruit and retain high talent performers. If you put these systems in place now, your organization will be able to attract, recruit, hire, and retain top talent now. And will be in a much better position in the future when the war for talent really heats up.

Retention Rules

Posted by Elaine Varelas September 9, 2013 09:00 AM

Fall can be a refreshing time for HR managers. Skeleton crews in the office and sand in the laptops are a thing of the past. In September, employees are back from vacation, ready for work, and primed to tackle that next project. Or are they? September is also the most popular time to revive a job search. Summer is a slow time for looking for work because employees are distracted with vacations, sunburns, and lazy beach reads. When autumn hits, so does reality. If employees aren’t happy in their jobs, this is when they start looking elsewhere.

How can you be sure that you don’t lose your most valuable players? You may have retention strategies in place, but are they enough to keep your top employees? The first step in making sure you keep your MVPs is to identify them. Who are your high potentials? Which people are crucial to the organization? Who are the up and coming stars of the organization?

The next step is to assess the threat of losing your best and brightest. On a scale of 1 to 10 what is the risk of each person leaving? Be sure to consider both professional and personal issues. On the personal side, do the high potentials have family issues that may make them more prone to leaving, such as a spouse out of a job or an elderly parent they must care for? If you are unaware of their personal struggles, rate them a 10 because what you don’t know could be costly. In addition to looking at personal reasons, it is also important to consider job-related issues. What are the professional hot buttons for each high potential? In some cases, employees may tell you they are unhappy or ready for a change. Other times, you might need to anticipate. Employees can become restless if their jobs grow stale, they go too long without a promotion or raise, they get passed over for projects, or they have a big project come to closure (perfect time to move on).

It isn’t necessary or even practical to keep everyone. Turnover is inevitable, but you need to work to retain your top employees. Conduct an analysis of your people and what it would mean to your organization if you lost them. Who is critical? What would it mean if the VP of operations left? It could have less of an impact than if the head of IT or sales did. For each person, determine the cost of departure, including the impact on projects, delays, and finding a replacement.

Once you’ve identified your high potentials and assessed their value and probability for leaving, the next step is to determine what it will take to keep them. One-size-fits all fixes rarely work. Employees could want development opportunities, financial rewards, stretch assignments, relocation, a more flexible schedule, or more public recognition—or a combination of several of these!

Next, it is time to make the approach. Start with the most critical people first. Be sure to have an action plan as you make contact. In some cases, just being identified as a high potential can foster loyalty and engagement. Of course, without a plan to “use” and reward a person, that loyalty can dwindle over time. Let high potentials know what the organization has in store for them with as much detail as possible. “We’re grooming you for a leadership position in R&D” is a more helpful statement than, “We think you’re a star and we want you to be happy.” You can then discuss specifics. What development opportunities are available? Most will want some type of development activity; something that will make them more skilled, knowledgeable, and marketable. It may involve a promotion or change in job title. Others may need access to an employee assistance program, or help with a personal issue they have. Money is not the most important factor in these discussions, but it has to be there. Without a monetary investment, the “offer” rings hollow. Employees need to see that the organization is willing to invest in them. Other retention strategies may involve choice assignments, a remote assignment, or exposure to the leadership team.

One disastrous mistake HR managers often make is comparing top employees to others. Do not hold them to the same internally-created policies (shackles) other employees follow. You are telling them they are special, so they should be treated that way. The employee handbook may prohibit promotions before six months on the job, but make the exception. Stars don’t want to see average performers getting the same treatment. Egalitarian practices will make them leave.

Encourage leadership to share the responsibility and rewards of grooming high potentials by taking a more holistic, organizational approach to development. Of course, if managers are willing to share people, they must not be punished by being left short staffed. Reward those who don’t hoard!

Conduct periodic check-ins to ensure that those you’ve identified are still performing. Employees who slip up may lose their high status. Also make sure the retention initiatives are still appropriate as their needs evolve. Tailoring your retention strategies to keep your top employees will benefit the organization and ensure that employees stay happy and stay put.

What Do I do if I have a Time Gap on my Resume?

Posted by Elaine Varelas September 4, 2013 10:00 AM

Q. I have been in my current position for the past year and a half and I want to look for a new job. I accepted this job when I finished business school, but this business unit was sold and my long term prospects have changed. While I was attending school, I held two positions over the last 8 month of 2011.This has created a lot of questions from both hiring managers and recruiters. What's the best way to address these short stints on a resume?

A. Most hiring mangers and recruiters don’t like unexplained time gaps on resumes or what they see as too many job changes for no logical reasons. Make sure your resume shows you at your best and highlights all of your positive work experience; minimize potential obstacles through the use of effective formatting and data that is most often not suggested in resume writing books.

Start your resume with a “Summary” section instead of an objective statement. Include a description of the experience you bring to the target roles you are looking for, followed by strong attributes you bring; ex. communication, leadership, presentation skills, etc. The next section should highlight your education as this is your most recent professional accomplishment.

Your current role should look great on your resume. You will have the start date (month and year) which hopefully is the same month, or month following your completion of business school. The date will end with (through present), which will show as moving toward two years; another good sign. On the line below the company name or at the end of the job description; explain, "ABC company sold business unit to XYZ company," with the date. Most hiring managers look at corporate major changes and understand that employees may want to make career changes based on that change in the business and the subsequent heir future. They understand it so it is not as “suspect” as other changes might appear.

Don’t say if you were attending school full or part time or why you held two positions over eight months. Often while people are attending school they do take jobs they are not as committed to as they would be in a full time professional situation. You may format your resume with a ”Professional Experience” section which would include the job you are in now, and list jobs you had while you were in school under ”Experience." Managers and recruiters have seen these kinds of job changes and are more accepting of this behavior prior to what they see as the beginning of your ”real career."

Resume formatting may help set the tone for managers to ask questions looking to confirm easily understood reasons for changing jobs. You have started the explanation in the resume and your answers need to continue the reasons in a clear manner that doesn’t reflect immaturity, or a bad attitude toward employers. If your job changes had less than “good” reasons, you may need to explain how much you have learned about committing to jobs, or what you have learned about how to ensure a job is the right one for you.

There may also be reasons to eliminate those short jobs from your resume, and only you can determine the risks you face . Employers and hiring managers don’t like gaps on resumes and they like surprises and missing information even less.

Workforce Planning for the Modern Age

Posted by Elaine Varelas August 5, 2013 10:00 AM

A hundred years ago, when company leaders discussed workforce planning, the talk centered around the production line: how to cover breaks, meals, and sick days. Without adequate people power to cover the gaps, production could falter or even shut down—jeopardizing the output of the final product. Today, many companies don’t even have a literal “production line.” Technology, the global economy, and evolving business models have morphed and transformed the traditional production line into something more sophisticated and abstract. Yet the final product remains fundamental to any organization’s success. And all of these years later, people power is still the key to ensuring that the goods or services are delivered on time, on target, and on budget.

It is a much more complex process today to determine what a company’s workforce needs are and will be. It isn’t just a matter of covering shifts; it’s about forecasting the future needs of the organization and figuring out how to meet those needs. Company leaders must analyze what the company currently has for skills and expertise, compare that to what the needs will be, and then devise a strategy to fill in the gaps. The leadership team must determine the “four rights:” the right need, the right people at the right time in the right job.

The first step is identifying the right need. Where is the company today? Where will it be in one year, five years, ten years? What are the skills and expertise the organization will need to reach those goals? Next, the leadership team needs to identify the right people. Who possesses the skills the company needs? Are they currently in-house? Can the organization employ grow-our-own strategies to develop the necessary expertise within their current employee base? Or can these people only be found outside the company?

Many companies fail to plan for the future, but it’s vital to recognize what roles will become essential to the company and identify who will fill them. The organization may have a cache of highly trained experts today, but the jobs they are needed for may be years away. How do you retain those people? Should you? On the flip side, many times the job is imminent, but the organization realizes too late that they don’t have the right people to fill it. (How many HR professionals have gotten the call from a department head stating the need for 60 (sales, tech, administrative people) STAT?)

While most company leaders know that people are central to the success of any business effort, senior management often treats workforce needs as an afterthought. Those initial strategy meetings to launch a new business line or product often involve research and development, IT, equipment needs, and market research. Yet, at the same time that organizations are putting in their purchase orders for 25 custom-built computers for this project, they should also be considering the staffing implications. How many additional sales, marketing, or back office people will be needed to launch this initiative successfully? What technical expertise will they need? Do we have this expertise in-house now, and if not, where are we going to look? Finding the right people generally requires that the HR team be brought into these strategy meeting at the beginning stages—not when the product or business line is ready to launch. Not doing so can cause a breakdown in the proverbial production line, causing delays, costs to skyrocket, and even a failed initiative.

One of the reasons leaders don’t look at people needs up front is that they underestimate the amount of time it takes to find the right people. People with sought-after expertise are harder to find as demand for particular skill sets increase, and organizations may have to interview 500 people to fill 10 key roles. With adequate time and support, HR professionals may also be able to develop current employees to help the organization fill their needs with their existing workforce. While this requires time and planning, it can significantly cut costs. Too often, we see organizations hiring in one sector, while conducting lay-offs in another. Redeploying employees doesn’t work in every case, but by inviting the HR team into the initial strategy meetings, it becomes a viable alternative to lay-offs.

Retention is just as important a piece of the workforce planning puzzle. The value of retention strategies cannot be underestimated—companies need to work to keep those employees they have, especially the future stars. Sure, recruitment is important to building a workforce, but valuable employees should be compensated, recognized, and rewarded so they feel valued and maintain their commitment to the organization.

Business has changed immensely over the past century, with technology transforming they way we do business. When we talk today about a production line, it may be more figurative, but the need for people to cover the gaps is still a vital part of any business model. Mismanaging an organization’s people needs can bring business to a halt, but having the right people in the right job at the right time can ensure success.

Employer branding—What you don’t do may be branding you

Posted by Elaine Varelas July 1, 2013 09:00 AM

Human resources professionals typically fall into one of two camps when it comes to employer branding: the “Let’s do it!” people and those who say, “Do we have to?” While employer branding is not mandatory for HR professionals, it conveys the organization’s reputation and image as an employer internally and to outside audiences. Ironically, even those companies that choose not to actively pursue an employer brand get branded anyway. In these cases, employees and others outside of the company shape the brand—for better or worse. Which is why most organizations choose to take control of the branding message.

It makes sense for organizations to take advantage of steering their employer brand. Companies with strong brands have more successful retention and recruitment programs and less turnover. They also have better engagement and productivity. By taking charge of the branding, company leaders can cultivate the messages they want to put forth about their culture, best practices, and opportunities for employees.

The most important aspect of employer branding is that it must be consistent with employees’ experiences. In developing a brand, company leaders cannot just put together a wish list of what they want to be, the brand has to be a reflection of reality. For example, if an organization touts itself as family-friendly, it cannot schedule weekly mandatory staff meetings at 6:00 pm or have a strict anti-telecommuting policy. If a company prides itself on its management training, that must translate to a better manager experience for employees (think communication, transparency, and partnership).

There are two main reasons why uniformity is imperative. First, it is easier than ever to determine the “true” culture of a company with a quick Google search. The Internet and social media allow employees to post virtually anything about their workplace; information that prospects can easily access. In fact, a judge in California recently ruled that disparaging comments made online by employees against their employers are protected under the law. This provides even more incentive for employers to practice what they preach!

The second reason, and perhaps more important, is that promoting an employer brand that is inconsistent with the employee experience negates the benefits of the brand. A false brand can do more than undermine a company’s reputation. If the company doesn’t live up to its image, employees and prospects will feel duped. Morale will take a hit, employees will become less engaged, and they may even start looking elsewhere for work. In this still recovering economy where every hire counts, most organizations cannot afford high turnover. As hiring picks up, it will be more important than ever to recruit the best people for the job, and to retain them. Only companies whose brand is consistent with the employee experience will be able to close the deal with the most sought-after candidates.

Like many other business initiatives, employer branding must start at the leadership level and continue throughout the company. How are employees treated? Is that consistent in every department? Most organizations aim to treat customers, employees, and prospects well, but what about others—vendors, partners, or job applicants who aren’t hired? Many companies have Employee Referral Programs. What better way to recruit new hires than through the people who already work at the company? How does your organization treat those prospects who are filtered through the ERP? Are they given special treatment (frequent communication and expedited interviews) or thrown into the mix? It’s embarrassing for employees to talk up their company to prospects only to have them treated like the masses. These “bad” stories or unintended consequences also become part of the brand.

How can HR professionals ensure that employees’ experiences matches the brand? Ask! Many company leaders are wary of going to employees because they aren’t sure they want to know the answers! Of course, ensuring a consistent employer brand starts with employees. How do employees experience the culture? Why do they think the organization is a good place to work? What would they tell their friends or new employees about the organization? What is the reason they choose to work there? What is their favorite perk? What would they change? Determining the answers to these questions will guide company leaders to forming an authentic employer brand.

A strong brand can boost productivity, engagement, loyalty, and retention. Of course, a brand is only effective if it is genuine. Consistency is vital to promoting an employer brand, and aligning the brand with the employee experience is the key to ensuring success.

Empowering Employees to Become Social Media Mavens

Posted by Elaine Varelas June 3, 2013 10:00 AM

Most human resources professionals know that social media is playing a larger role in business—a change that has occurred at warp speed. A handful of years ago, only the most cutting-edge companies even had a dedicated position for social media. Since then, the use of social media has spread lightening fast to marketing, sales, and customer service departments. Today, it has infiltrated every aspect of business.

In the past, most HR professionals’ involvement with social media was limited to developing policies designed to get a handle on social media use on the job. Often this has meant regulating the use of social media applications like Facebook among employees or attempting to define the proper protocol for using social media at work. Policing social media is close to impossible today because the line between personal and business use of the technology is not just blurred, it’s nonexistent. More importantly, by keeping employees from utilizing social media for business, company leaders may be putting their organization at an extreme disadvantage.

While it is one thing to understand that social media is here to stay, it is another to fully embrace the technology. You may be saying, “I get it, but don’t use it.” If you were one of those people who never could figure out how to change the blinking 12:00 on your VCR, it is time to adjust to this new reality. That may involve hiring people to the HR or leadership team who make you uncomfortable. Surround yourself with the digital media “envelope pushers.” You may argue with them about the techniques they recommend, but these social media visionaries understand the technology and can help you to fully realize the value.

For most HR professionals, social media is making its greatest mark by transforming recruitment and hiring. No longer do HR managers sort through piles of resumes to find an employee. Often, before they even look at a resume they are researching the person online—checking out their personal “brand.” Utilizing Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram, employers can find a wealth of information about a candidate and search for any red flags. One company started a job search by looking at people who liked their organization on Facebook. The candidates already liked the company, so what better people to have as employees?

Social media also allows organizations to search for “passive job seekers,” those people who are not actively looking for a new position. In the past, these people were difficult to locate, but social media allows HR managers to examine the needs within their organizations and find these perfect candidates online. They can search profiles, network, and make connections with people, and persuade them to take a new post.

Social media, however, is not just changing how HR professionals communicate with job seekers and employees, but also how employees communicate with each other, clients, prospective job seekers, and the outside world. Of course, what we communicate is just as important as how we do it. If you have something to say, it better be in 140 characters or less! We are moving toward a world of fast exchange of ideas, shorter attention spans, and an expectation of a more frequent stream of information.

Every person within an organization—from the CEO to the receptionist (and you!)—should have an understanding and expertise in social media. At the very least, every department and team should have one person who understands how social media works and how they can harness it to improve their business line. Ideally, organizations will be encouraging employees to embrace their inner Mad Men (and women).

Social media allows every employee to take part in networking, recruiting, marketing, publicity, sales, community relations, and customer service. Establishing your employees as social media experts establishes your organization as being ahead of the curve, builds your brand, positions your organization as a modern, competitive company, and lends credence and clout to the organization. Not doing so makes a company look old, outdated, and obsolete—not attractive to customers, prospects, or current employees.

HR professionals can help to create an organization full of social media mavens in a variety of ways. First, you must embrace it. Even if you don’t fully understand tweets, posts, and profiles, you must recognize the value of social media. You can also serve as a champion for the social media cause for leadership. If your leadership team is perplexed by Pinterest, flummoxed by Facebook and laissez faire about LinkedIn, help them to see the importance of social media from a business perspective. HR professionals can also help employees by providing the tools, education, and guidance they need to become experts at the technology.

Messaging becomes vitally important when working through social media. Messages need to be succinct, but they also need to be consistent across platforms, with web sites matching blogs, tweets, and LinkedIn profiles. Employees should also perfect their online “elevator pitch,” creating a short, crisp blurb about their job and company for any audience.

Social media has quickly emerged as a driving force in business, not just in recruitment, but across business lines. HR professionals can be at the leading edge within the organization to create a united social media front and a team of social media experts.

Supporting Employees As They Go Global-International Posts Give Companies an Edge

Posted by Elaine Varelas May 6, 2013 09:00 AM

Singapore, Sydney, or Stockholm? These names may conjure up visions of exotic vacations, but these cities are among the world’s powerhouses for business. Most American companies with a global presence have offices worldwide. But to take advantage of this international status, organizations cannot just have a location; they must also have global experts at the leadership level. Company leaders at these American based companies must have a strong working knowledge of the business practices, culture, customs, languages, and laws of the cities in which they have offices. Of course, fully grasping the essence of a locale can’t happen on a two week jaunt oversees. It requires a total immersion, with assignments lasting at the very least, three years.

Fifty years ago, it wasn’t uncommon for “company men” to take assignments anywhere as a step up the succession ladder often staying at one post for a few years before moving on to the next assignment. This practice fell out of favor in the 80s and 90s as American workers railed against displacing their families for years at time for their job. Today, it is virtually impossible for global companies to stay competitive without their top executives having had at least one international post.

These stints are a necessity. Technology can connect us with the other side of the world instantly, but viewing life through a screen is not a substitute for real life experience. Typically, these assignments last from three to five years, in part because it isn’t cost-effective for organizations to relocate an employee for less time. Employees then return to the US with invaluable knowledge about the culture and operations of key business sites.

For those employees who may be wary of taking an international position, or who have justifiable worries about relocating—selling the house, finding a place to live, landing a job for a spouse or partner, pulling the kids out of school and locating a new school, learning the language—HR professionals can help the transition. Here are seven steps to balancing the needs of the company with employees’ needs:

Make growth opportunities public—Information about global positions—where they are, who should take them and when—should not be shrouded in secrecy. These posts and the offices should be frequent topics of conversation among leadership, HR, and the organization’s rising stars. This can be a valuable recruitment and retention tool. The earlier employees know that oversees posts are a must, the better. It can ease fear and garner excitement.

Make posts coveted—Typically, global posts are financially rewarding and can be a career-changing event. Instead of positioning these jobs as something to dread, organizations (and in turn, employees) can consider them posts of honor.

Plan early—As future leaders are identified, the HR team should begin working with them to plan their international contract. Employees can better manage their personal lives when they have an understanding of the timing, location, and length of their assignment.

Make it easy—Ensure that the transition from home goes as smoothly as possible by supporting employees during every step of the relocation process. Help them sell their homes, ship their things, find schools, housing, and job leads for spouses (if it is legal for them to work in the new location). Also give them a taste of the culture by providing literature or web sites with information about the location, local food and customs, music, and assistance learning at least the basics of the language.

Connect people with others—Connect employees with those who have gone before so they can get an inside look at what life will really be like, and can have their infrequently asked questions answered. Share success stories of company leaders who have taken these positions in the past and are now enjoying a stellar career stateside. If there is an expatriate community in the distant city, make sure to make introductions. These groups can be an important support network for employees and their families once they make the move.

Keep the spouse/partner happy—If the spouse is miserable, everyone is miserable! Make sure to consider the entire family in the move, not just the employee. Supporting the spouse and children is paramount to success. Share information with the spouse as well (culture, jobs, schools, entertainment) and connect the spouse with other partners of employees in the city.

Don’t forget the return trip—Relocation specialists are also needed when employees move back to the states. They can experience culture shock if they’ve been out of the country for a while. They may not have a handle on the housing market or changes in the company. Make sure the re-entry process is handled with as much detail and care as the first leg of the trip. Otherwise, employees could take their international expertise elsewhere.

Once employees are back, it is also important to take advantage of their global experience. They shouldn’t be put in a back office until HR or leadership is ready, but put into a position to excel at the organization. Global assignments are once again becoming a necessity for international companies. By making these posts public and attractive at the company, supporting employees throughout planning and relocation process, and taking advantage of employees global expertise, companies can keep a global competitive edge.

What price coaching?

Posted by Elaine Varelas April 1, 2013 10:00 AM

Company leaders and HR professionals often lament the high cost of coaching. Sure, targeted, one-on-one coaching at the executive level is worth the price tag. After all, bulking up leadership, management, or communication skills for those in the C-suite can have far-reaching positive effects throughout the organization, and can often “save” a team or a career. But what about at other levels in the organization? Many leaders hesitate to use this type of coaching for middle managers, questioning whether there is a sufficient return on the investment.

Fortunately, there are alternative coaching practices that organizations can implement at multiple levels within the company that provide similar results with a drastically reduced cost. Organizations must develop managers as coaches, with the skills talents and finesse to consistently deliver useful feedback. The regular and documented use of feedback can drastically curtail coaching costs at the manager level. However, many organizations struggle with developing managers who have the capability and stomach to provide practical feedback that helps both the individual and the company.

There are many reasons why managers avoid giving honest feedback. Providing candid observations can be, well, uncomfortable, and managers may feel anxious about sharing constructive feedback with employees. They may not know exactly how to address problem areas or may not have ideas for improving performance. Managers may also shy away from providing feedback to maintain harmony. They don’t want to alter the collegiality of the team, or disrupt the manager/employee working relationship. They may also genuinely like a person and not want to hurt feelings, or they may be afraid it will affect their employees financially if negative feedback appears in their performance review. In these cases, managers ignore the red flags in employee performance and hope it goes away on its own.

Regrettably, most of the time, these problems just fester and grow. Avoiding giving feedback doesn’t serve the individual or the company in the long run. In fact, it prolongs and perpetuates the problem. Often, the issue goes on so long that the person get frustrated. He or she is continually passed over for promotions and never comprehends the reason why. Or the person may be promoted and those that he or she works with have to bear the brunt of the management or work style flaw. The issue often comes to a head later on, and the individual is faced with an ultimatum: fix your problem or leave. Typically, the person has grown accustomed to working in a particular way (without knowing it was a problem), and finds it more difficult to change. At this late stage, the need for costly coaching becomes more likely and still the chances of success are slim.

The costs to the organization can be more than just that of coaching, however. Providing constructive feedback to all employees addresses issues as they occur. It is similar to fixing a dripping pipe as soon as you identify the leak. Organizations without a procedure for constructive, documented feedback can look like a system of pipes with multiple leaks. They may eventually explode (too late for coaching), but even if they don’t, those small leaks can add up.

Here’s how organizations can implement feedback in a way that is productive:

Put it in writing—Feedback needs to be official. It should be documented in performance reviews, along with successes. This way it can serve as a base point for improvements and interventions. If opportunities are identified, employees can then begin to work on them.

Make it developmental (vs. remedial)—Feedback doesn’t have to be negative. Managers can be taught how to focus feedback on developmental goals with opportunities and strategies for improvement, versus punishment for doing something “wrong.”

Develop managers to be coaches—HR professionals cannot assume that managers know how to give feedback or to coach. Managers need to understand the value of feedback and practical strategies for providing it in an effective manner. HR leaders need to give managers the support they need to become “feedback fearless” and the resources they need to help employees improve.

Start early—Feedback should not be reserved for those in management positions, but should be encouraged at all levels within the organization. This practice not only reduces the cost of coaching in the future, but it also makes giving and getting feedback an integral part of the company culture.

Give feedback often and in many formats—Feedback should be written in formal performance reviews, but managers can also provide feedback in more informal or conversational settings. This can take the fear out of annual performance reviews because frequent communication leaves employees knowing what to expect. Managers should be able to identify “learning moments” to show people real work day situations where they can improve, take chances, or challenge themselves professionally.

What does feedback cost? Possibly some initial anxiety on the part of the manager, but the payoff can be huge. Developing managers to become coaches and provide feedback to employees can maintain the use of coaching for development al issues within the organization, improve individual performance, and benefit the company as a whole.

All Aboard! How to Ensure Onboarding Success

Posted by Elaine Varelas March 4, 2013 09:00 AM

Company insiders are those in the know. They have the pulse of the organization, know who to call on to solve every conceivable problem, have the ear of leadership, and understand how to get things done in the organization. Insiders are invaluable.
The trick for HR professionals is to speed up the transition from new hire to insider. This is where onboarding comes in.

At many organizations, the onboarding process is little more than a new employee orientation. However, by taking such a bare bones approach to welcoming and indoctrinating new employees to the company, HR leaders are all but ensuring that new employees will falter and ultimately fail.

Statistics show that the more senior the role, the less chance for success for new hires. This poor retention score is detrimental to the organization’s recruitment efforts. Too many resources are poured into finding and hiring the right executive for an open position. Yet, too often, organizations invest heavily in the hiring process only to bumble the next step. “Change agents” are hired to make an impact, but they never completely understand what it is they are trying to change. Onboarding should not just be for executives though. This process should occur for key positions throughout the organization to smooth the transition from new to knowledgeable.

The goal of onboarding is the ensure the success of the person in the role. This process is more involved than software training and benefits review. It relies on culture and connections. The person must have a strong understanding of the company culture and have established relationships with people who will be invested in his or her success.

New employees must be aligned with what is culturally important at the company—both formal and informal aspects of the culture. They need to understand the reality of the culture—how it is after everyone stops behaving nicely. Is it competitive or cooperative? Emails or phone calls? What is rewarded? What isn’t valued? What is the important history? What are the obstacles to success? What is the leaderships’ agenda? What is the hidden agenda? What are the landmines that should be avoided at all costs?

Of course, the only way a new employee could gather the answers to these questions is through relationships with current employees. Onboarding can’t just be about information, it also is about connecting new hires with established people within the company. A good assistant is a must, to help the person avoid the common newbie pitfalls. However, this is just a first step. Fresh hires should have two or three other allies within the organization from different parts of the company. A senior mentor can serve as a window into leadership, a colleague within the same department can give a heads up about group politics, and an a representative from another business area can give an outsider’s perspective. Through these relationships, a new person can glean a better understanding of the mechanics of the company, assimilate to a new way of working more quickly, and avoid the frustration of figuring it out along the way.

As an HR professional, you may be thinking, “This all sounds good, but how do I make it happen?” How can you get employees to be invested in another’s success? At some organizations there is a financial incentive. Mentors are rewarded if the new employee survives and thrives. A monetary incentive is not the only way to get employees to become champions. It may just be a matter of assigning value and time to the task. If being an onboarding advocate is an important position in the company, many employees will want to take part. Of course, these employees must be given the time to do it right. They can’t be expected to mentor on nights and weekends. It has to be built into their job description and work day—at least for the short term. Communication can also be useful. If employees can better understand how that person’s success will ultimately impact their own success (i.e. sharing the department work load so everyone isn’t so stressed, taking over a task that the person is ready to give up, allowing them to take on a new position), they will be willing to help.

Some HR people may consider this type of onboarding practice to be a drastic step. Isn’t it risky to expose the organization for what it really is—warts and all? The answer is, it can be. That’s why choosing the onboarding partners is important. This isn’t about hooking up new employees with the company gossip. It is about feeding vital information to new employees to ensure that they become familiar with the workplace, and work customs so that they can be successful. Will the information help or hinder that success? Warts are a natural part of most businesses, and hiding them won’t help a new employee reach his or her potential. Giving new employees are true, realistic view of the company and culture up front, and partners to help navigate those tricky first few months, will lead to less frustration for the individual and better retention for the organization. All aboard for onboarding!

Developing the Next Generation of Leaders

Posted by Elaine Varelas February 4, 2013 08:00 AM

by Elaine Varelas

Despite the best of intentions, most people give up on their New Year’s resolutions by mid-January. Maybe they expect instant results (lose 10 pounds in 24 hours!) or tried to do too much too soon (exercise just three hours a day!). The most successful people are those who take a longer-term view; they look at the big picture instead of instant gratification. This same philosophy should be adopted for business goals. Developing the next generation of leaders cannot happen overnight. HR professionals need to look at implementing a long-term strategy to grow and develop the leaders of the future.

Many HR professionals and company leaders approach leadership development with too much short-sightedness. They often zero in on their people. Who do we have? Who is missing? Where can we find people to fill in the gap? While their instincts are correct that people are a vital part of the process, they may be jumping the gun. Before they decide who they will need, company leaders should first determine what they will need.

The first questions HR professionals should ask when looking to develop leaders should focus on the business. What will our organization look like in two years, five years, or in a decade? How will our business strategy evolve? Will the organization be going public? Working on an acquisition? Developing a new business line? Once leaders have a vision of what the company will look like, they can develop a vision for their leaders.

When executives know their direction, they can shift the focus to locating the skills, qualifications, and experience of the people who will get them there. For example, an organization that is looking to go public soon may need a leader who is entrepreneurial, dynamic, and charismatic. This person’s qualifications would not be a good match, however, for a public company that needs to say on course. While this may be a simplistic example, it illustrates the importance of matching the leader’s experience to the stage of company growth.

It often falls upon the HR professional to deliver less-than-popular messages to the leadership team about staffing and development. It’s possible that the organization’s current leader(s) are not the people who should continue at the helm going forward. The Golden Boy or Girl who led the company to where it is today may become a liability for future growth.

This strategy of matching your leadership to the company’s needs is not just for the executive suite. As HR professionals look forward, they should keep the qualifications of their future leaders in mind as they fill department head and manager positions. HR may want to consider developing leadership benchmarks to guide hiring and development. By creating leadership standards, the organization is announcing, “These are the leadership qualities we value.” Employees will know what is expected of them as leaders, and those target skills and behaviors should be recognized and rewarded throughout the organization.

Once the organization has determined what it will be and the type of leaders it needs to reach those goals, it is then time to look at the organizations’ people. Who are the high potentials? What are the developmental needs necessary to meet objectives? How can the future stars flex their leadership muscles? This process shouldn’t occur with just a chosen few. Succession plans only work if there are back-up players to pick up the slack if a leader leaves. Development strategies should encompass a group of people.

Approaches to development can range from targeted training to stretch assignments to lateral transfers. For example, some global companies require leaders to accept an overseas position on a short-term basis to gain some international perspective and experience. Development strategies should be focused and individualized to cultivate the type of leaders that will advance the business.

Typically, future leader identification is shrouded in secrecy. HR professionals are worried that if they let their high-potentials know they are being put on a leadership track, it could alter the balance of power in the relationship or could lead to changes in employees’ behavior at work. Worse yet, HR leaders fear that they may groom an employee for greatness only to find out that the “this is it” position never materializes.

However, having a conversation (or several) with the organization’s future stars helps to set expectations and can encourage buy-in from employees at the start of the development process. Employees can also weigh in on what they want for their careers and from the organization so that a shared vision can develop and a mutually-beneficial arrangement can be reached. Transparency in the process can better serve the organization and the individual. If an employee knows what the “this is it” position is, he or she can have a hand in creating that position.

Developing the next generation of leaders should start with a thorough examination of what the organization will look like in the future. Once the needs are determined, only then should HR professionals look at the skills and talent they will need to meet the organization’s business goals. Approaching leadership development with a long-term, thoughtful, and well-communicated plan, organizations can identify and develop their people for future success. This is a resolution worth pursuing!

Manager Makeovers: Building Better Managers for Organizational Success

Posted by Elaine Varelas January 7, 2013 09:00 AM

by Elaine Varelas

Makeovers are becoming a cultural phenomenon. Television, magazines, and blogs often showcase extreme transformations of people, houses, relationships, and even pets! Since New Year’s is often a time for people to focus on self-improvement (I’m going to: give up sugar; go gluten-free; start exercising—AGAIN!), we thought we’d offer some advice to make over your organization’s managers. As you look to your organization’s strengths and challenges, so much of your success stems from your people. By building better managers you can bring extreme positive change to your company. Here are five areas you can guide your organization’s managers to focus on in the New Year:

Over communicate—Most managers understand intellectually that communication is important, but how does that translate to their daily interactions with people? Make sure you let managers know what effective communication looks like. Managers must be direct, clear, and articulate. It isn’t possible to over-communicate! Employees appreciate any information offered because it helps to guide their work. They want to know the plan, the strategy, and the rationale behind decisions. When in doubt, communicate! Another important piece of communication that many of us often overlook is that it is not all talk, but listening too. One of the biggest employee complaints is, “Nobody asked me, and nobody listens to us anyway!” Employees are in the trenches everyday, working directly with clients and customers. They are full of great ideas—if somebody just asks and listens. Heard employees are also happier employees.

Recognize—When it comes to recognition, employees are insatiable. Aren’t we all? If we’re doing a good job, we want to hear about it! If we don’t hear about it, what’s the point in working so hard? In general, recognition is underplayed in most organizations. Of course, the thanks must be sincere and deserved or else it loses its value. Give managers ideas for expanding their recognition-providing efforts. Saying a direct “thanks” for a job well-done is not enough (although it is important). Managers should look for other creative ways to recognize employees, including small groups, newsletters, and management meetings.

Set expectations—Employees want to succeed and do their jobs well. They will accomplish tasks and reach goals, but only if those goals are clear. It is a manager’s job to set expectations, communicate them clearly, explain the ramifications of not reaching goals, and ensure buy-in—all employees must understand what is expected of them and why. Setting expectations is not just a one-time gig. Managers should check in periodically to make sure milestones are being met and employees are on track. Managers shouldn’t set expectations to punish employees (“You didn’t do what I asked!”), but to reach set goals as a team.

Delegate to grow—Delegation is an important skill for managers to learn. They need to be able to get work done utilizing other people. Many managers believe in the motto, “If you want something done, you have to do it yourself.” But managers who try to do everything aren’t able to do the most important tasks well. HR managers can encourage managers to keep a running list of “to dos” and only focus on a handful of areas. The rest can be delegated. Delegation is also a great development tool. Managers should consider handing off some of the high impact projects to employees. Stretch assignments can be a useful learning opportunity. The manager can be there to serve as a coach or mentor. Managers should also consider allocating high-visibility or exciting projects to employees. By delegating these types of projects, managers can contribute to employee development—and retention.

Find your blind spot—Encourage managers to conduct a realistic self-assessment of their strengths and weaknesses. It is imperative that managers play to their strengths—great communicators, for example, should continue to build on and develop their communication skills. It is also essential for managers to identify their blind spots. What is that one area of weakness that is keeping the manager from exceling or moving to the next level? In addition to working to develop their employees, managers need to work on their own development. Hopefully, the managers in your organization have their own managers who encourage them to take stretch assignments and step out of their comfort zone to improve those skills that need tweaking. Of course, not everyone can be their own coach. HR managers can step in to offer support and development opportunities for managers when they need it.

As we embark on a New Year, HR managers and company leaders everywhere are looking for that competitive edge to propel them forward in 2013. At The Hire Authority, we are confident that that edge can be enhanced by focusing on people. Building better managers can create a massive impact throughout the organization. As an HR manager, it is your job to encourage and support your organization’s managers as they work on their self-improvement by providing guidance, ideas, and development opportunities. Wishing you much success in the New Year!

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Manager Makeovers: Building Better Managers for Organizational Success

Posted by Elaine Varelas January 7, 2013 08:00 AM

by Elaine Varelas

Makeovers are becoming a cultural phenomenon. Television, magazines, and blogs often showcase extreme transformations of people, houses, relationships, and even pets! Since New Year’s is often a time for people to focus on self-improvement (I’m going to: give up sugar; go gluten-free; start exercising—AGAIN!), we thought we’d offer some advice to make over your organization’s managers. As you look to your organization’s strengths and challenges, so much of your success stems from your people. By building better managers you can bring extreme positive change to your company. Here are five areas you can guide your organization’s managers to focus on in the New Year:

Over communicate—Most managers understand intellectually that communication is important, but how does that translate to their daily interactions with people? Make sure you let managers know what effective communication looks like. Managers must be direct, clear, and articulate. It isn’t possible to over-communicate! Employees appreciate any information offered because it helps to guide their work. They want to know the plan, the strategy, and the rationale behind decisions. When in doubt, communicate! Another important piece of communication that many of us often overlook is that it is not all talk, but listening too. One of the biggest employee complaints is, “Nobody asked me, and nobody listens to us anyway!” Employees are in the trenches everyday, working directly with clients and customers. They are full of great ideas—if somebody just asks and listens. Heard employees are also happier employees.

Recognize—When it comes to recognition, employees are insatiable. Aren’t we all? If we’re doing a good job, we want to hear about it! If we don’t hear about it, what’s the point in working so hard? In general, recognition is underplayed in most organizations. Of course, the thanks must be sincere and deserved or else it loses its value. Give managers ideas for expanding their recognition-providing efforts. Saying a direct “thanks” for a job well-done is not enough (although it is important). Managers should look for other creative ways to recognize employees, including small groups, newsletters, and management meetings.

Set expectations—Employees want to succeed and do their jobs well. They will accomplish tasks and reach goals, but only if those goals are clear. It is a manager’s job to set expectations, communicate them clearly, explain the ramifications of not reaching goals, and ensure buy-in—all employees must understand what is expected of them and why. Setting expectations is not just a one-time gig. Managers should check in periodically to make sure milestones are being met and employees are on track. Managers shouldn’t set expectations to punish employees (“You didn’t do what I asked!”), but to reach set goals as a team.

Delegate to grow—Delegation is an important skill for managers to learn. They need to be able to get work done utilizing other people. Many managers believe in the motto, “If you want something done, you have to do it yourself.” But managers who try to do everything aren’t able to do the most important tasks well. HR managers can encourage managers to keep a running list of “to dos” and only focus on a handful of areas. The rest can be delegated. Delegation is also a great development tool. Managers should consider handing off some of the high impact projects to employees. Stretch assignments can be a useful learning opportunity. The manager can be there to serve as a coach or mentor. Managers should also consider allocating high-visibility or exciting projects to employees. By delegating these types of projects, managers can contribute to employee development—and retention.

Find your blind spot—Encourage managers to conduct a realistic self-assessment of their strengths and weaknesses. It is imperative that managers play to their strengths—great communicators, for example, should continue to build on and develop their communication skills. It is also essential for managers to identify their blind spots. What is that one area of weakness that is keeping the manager from exceling or moving to the next level? In addition to working to develop their employees, managers need to work on their own development. Hopefully, the managers in your organization have their own managers who encourage them to take stretch assignments and step out of their comfort zone to improve those skills that need tweaking. Of course, not everyone can be their own coach. HR managers can step in to offer support and development opportunities for managers when they need it.

As we embark on a New Year, HR managers and company leaders everywhere are looking for that competitive edge to propel them forward in 2013. At The Hire Authority, we are confident that that edge can be enhanced by focusing on people. Building better managers can create a massive impact throughout the organization. As an HR manager, it is your job to encourage and support your organization’s managers as they work on their self-improvement by providing guidance, ideas, and development opportunities. Wishing you much success in the New Year!

Ring in the New Year! Resolutions to get you closer to the C-Suite in 2013

Posted by Elaine Varelas December 3, 2012 09:00 AM

It’s December (already?) and if you’re like us here at The Hire Authority, you’re probably up to your mistletoe in holiday preparations. ‘Tis the season for office parties, gift swaps, and don’t forget work too! Yet, 2013 is just a few short weeks away. It isn’t too soon to begin thinking about your New Year’s resolutions. How will you wow the leadership team next year and ensure your spot in the C-suite? Here are eight edicts to resolve to follow next year to ensure you become indispensible to your organization.

Be true to your culture—What does your organization’s culture boast ? Are you living up to the hype? Whatever your organization points to as its cultural strong point, you have to back it up. If your culture is committed to employee development, make sure your company offers multiple learning opportunities and stretch assignments. If you brag about innovation, invest in it. You may also want to explore new ways to support your culture. Try brown bag lunches with the CEO, using humor as development opportunity instead of discipline, or a vacation day lottery. What could you do to reinforce or inject some energy into your culture?

Be flexible—Policies and procedures should support the company, not the other way around. Do you stand by your rules even when they hurt the organization (“Sorry, that’s against protocol.”)? For example, a manufacturing company had a policy against overtime. When the equipment broke down at day’s end, employees couldn’t stay to fix it. A few hours of overtime is far less costly to an organization than a day without production. Don’t let your policies become roadblocks on the way to reaching business goals.

Be vulnerable—We know that transparency is key to employee engagement. Of course, showing vulnerability is part of transparency. It’s also the scary part! We all saw Obama’s tears while addressing his campaign staff post-election. Regardless of your political leaning, he exhibited genuine emotion to his staff. Showing your true selves, weakness and all, builds trust throughout the organization. This is important for HR to adopt, as well as the leadership team. Employees will see their leaders as authentic and relatable.

Have a plan—What is your HR strategic plan? The “war for talent” may be a tired expression, but it is also a re-emerging fact of business life. Where will your organization’s growth come from? Who are your next leaders? Identify your stars within the company and develop and retain them. Look to outside recruitment to fill in the pieces. Don’t forget development at the executive level. If your leaders think they’re exempt from development initiatives, make changing their minds a goal for your 2013 plan.

Cultivate relationships—Relationships matter. Your relationship with each employee should hold as much weight as those with the leadership team. There is no longer an employment contract, but each employee association is still significant. Employees will become more productive contributors if you base the relationship on respect and integrity, instead of animosity. The relationship should remain consistent through the employee life cycle—not just during recruitment, but development and transitioning out as well. Aim to create an alumnae base full of allies, not enemies.

Become a consummate communicator—If you haven’t done it already, 2013 is the year to master social media. But don’t just post, blog, and tweet to keep up with technology. Use social media strategically. Of course, technology shouldn’t come at the expense of interpersonal communication. One-on-one meetings are still an important tool for HR professionals. Hand written thank you notes are becoming a lost art, and therefore, have a major impact. A colleague of mine has one tacked up on his wall that he received years ago. Emails just don’t have the same impact! Resolve to hand write and snail mail at least some of your thanks in 2013.

Don’t forget your personal goals—When listing your resolutions, don’t forget yourself! What career goals do you want to achieve this year? What do you want to learn about inside the organization? What about outside? What relationships do you want to initiate or foster? As you work to improve the organization, keep your own development in mind.

Commit to innovation—We all know that innovation is essential to business success. While people often link the word “innovate” to products, you can also look at innovation in terms of how you manage and grow the company. What worked in the past could work in the future, but what else is there to try? If your organization is like many others, you may consider your employees your biggest asset. What innovative programs and strategies can you implement to catapult your organization forward? Keep an open mind and take “no” off the table.

Every action you take as an HR professional should directly correlate to impacting and improving the business. Following these resolutions will help to make you indispensible to your company in 2013, not just for the HR department, but the organization as a whole.

What Would The Hire Authority Do?

Posted by Elaine Varelas November 5, 2012 09:00 AM

You may have seen What Would You Do?, ABC News’ hidden camera show hosted by John Quinones featuring real (unsuspecting) people put in the middle of an ethical dilemma. During the ads for this salacious show, where people are witness to cheating, lying, and verbal abuse, the announcer’s booming voice asks viewers, “What would you do?” Despite your feelings about the show or premise, it is a fascinating concept. Most of us at one time or another have been faced with an ethical quandary on the job. We asked some of our readers to submit their stickiest workplace scenarios and put our resident HR expert, Elaine Varelas, on the spot to see how she would handle these situations. We asked Elaine, “What would The Hire Authority Do?”

An employee comes into the office clearly impaired. If the person is sloshed on one too many martinis or hopped up on painkillers, an HR professional’s first responsibility is to make sure the person is safe, and that others in the office are too. The workplace is not the environment for someone who is under the influence. If the person is coherent, make sure you provide transportation home to avoid the person getting behind a wheel. Next, you need to assess the situation, which can only happen through an honest conversation with the employee. Is this a one-time thing (a non-drinker tried a cocktail at lunch at a client’s urging) or is this a pattern of behavior? The employee may need a warning or help getting into rehab. Of course, this conversation has to take place on a different day when the person is sober.

Someone’s BO is causing employees to be KO’d. Needless to say, discussing a person’s smell requires extreme sensitivity. The HR manager needs to make sure that this conversation takes place in private, so the employee isn’t called out and embarrassed in front of co-workers. It helps to start with a question: “Have you gotten this feedback before?” If you’re met with surprise, you need to address it firmly: “Your body odor is strong and it is distracting your colleagues. Let’s see what we can do to take care of this.” You may need to tread lightly, especially as our workplace goes global. You may have employees from different cultures that have less rigid guidelines about hygiene than here in America.

The CEO’s very public divorce has employees’ tongues wagging. Too often, leadership teams choose a strategy of ignoring an issue, believing that if it isn’t addressed directly, it will blow over. Of course, this approach often has the opposite affect. The issue becomes too big of a story not to talk about, as employees wonder why it is such a big secret. In this case, the issue of the divorce must be addressed, and the leadership team should present a united front in support of the CEO. Often, it is the organization’s HR person who needs to drive the process. The HR executive can help develop a public statement for the leadership team. This can read something like, “We have an outstanding CEO who is going through a trying time. This is an extremely personal situation and we hope that you will respect (name of CEO’s) privacy.” This statement doesn’t give any additional information, but employees will see that the divorce was addressed and it should help to get those tongues back where they belong!

In a pet-friendly office, a man’s dog’s flatulence is keeping others from coming in to the office. It’s one thing if it was an employee passing gas, but this is a pet. Bringing pets to work is a wonderful perk at many offices, but Fido’s flatulence can’t take precedence over employees coming in to work. During a conversation with the dog’s owner, the HR manager needs to explain that the dog is causing a problem and disrupting the productivity of other employees. The choice is to either get the dog’s digestive issues under control or leave Fido at home.

An employee is fired and takes everything off her desk (including the company-owned lap top and client files) except a gift her boss gave her years before. In this case, it is important to determine what really matters and what doesn’t. Taking company property, a computer and files, is theft. Someone from security needs to contact her to tell her to return those items. Is it annoying that she refused a gift given in good faith by her boss? Sure. Was she making a statement? Probably. Is it worth making a production out of it? No.

While these situations may seem extreme or even funny at times, they do happen. If one person has the courage to bring up an issue to human resources, you can almost guarantee there are many others suffering in silence. Not addressing them quickly and thoroughly can disrupt the workplace or even cause a hostile work environment. HR is the first line of defense. While it may be human instinct to ignore these issues, it typically doesn’t work because they don’t go away, and can even escalate. As HR professionals, we need to protect the safety of our employees and ensure that they are able to be productive and comfortable at work.

Swing for the Stars—Preparing Leadership, Your Organization and Yourself for Your HR Home Run

Posted by Elaine Varelas October 1, 2012 09:00 AM

HR professionals have made huge strides in changing the perception of the role of human resources in business. Through our efforts, savvy leadership teams are beginning to understand the impact of people on the organization. Our job isn’t just to fill empty positions; we can also give our organizations an edge. Rather than being solely task-oriented—working on benefits, employee complaints, and vacation schedules—HR Professionals are increasingly being asked to help craft the goals and direction of the company.

This shift has moved HR people to leadership roles. Yet with this responsibility comes risk. Throughout history, the most effective leaders have always been risk-takers. HR professionals have the opportunity, and frankly the obligation, to undertake “reach” initiatives in their organizations—endeavors that will most likely drastically alter the way business is done within the company. By embarking on these lofty assignments, we can earn our place on the leadership team by actively providing value and focus to the organization.

You may have your reach initiative in mind, but how do you go about introducing and following through with it? How can you ensure that it will be successful? That you will be taken seriously? And that you can eliminate the roadblocks that stand in your way?

It is natural for your organization, and even your leadership, to be change-averse. People get nervous about disrupting the status quo. After all, why fix what isn’t broken? Why invest in an unproven theory? People like to throw darts at those who suggest change. Knowing that you will be up against skeptics and doubters, what can you do?

It is a massive undertaking, so train for it. Marathon runners know that you shouldn’t just wake up one day and run 26.2 miles. You must train, build up your mileage, tweak your diet and sleep schedule and get great running shoes. In other words, you need to prepare. The same can be done for your reach assignment. Preparation is key. You can’t just blurt out your idea at a staff meeting without having done some research and without anticipating questions and possible objections. If you do, your idea will be shot down before you have a chance to grow it.

Before you announce your initiative, consider instituting a “reach initiative incubator.” At this beginning stage, you should take an honest look at your idea, your organization, and your leadership. Here are some things to consider:

Identify your opposition and sell your position—What will be the biggest obstacles in launching your initiative? Anticipate what the doubters will say. Be prepared to provide data and statistics as to why your program is necessary. Give examples of success stories at other organizations. Document all of the benefits you foresee (especially financial), as well as the possible downsides. With any change, there are bumps. What will those be? How will you mitigate them? How can you show the value despite these issues?

Understand how change works—Research the model of change to understand what you can expect from the process and when. Why are people reluctant? How long will it take to win people over? If you aren’t sure about the intricacies of organizational transition, check out William Bridges, an author and change management consultant. You can see more about his work at:

Develop an education plan—Don’t just say “trust me.” Give leadership a reason to buy into your initiative. Show them how you will make it work, create a reasonable timeline, and short and long-term goals.

Build support—Bring your idea to key people in the organization to garner support before presenting it to leadership. Your biggest allies will be in finance, accounting and operations. You need to assert that your reach project will positively impact the bottom line. Leadership will also be more willing to undertake a project that already has buy-in from a cross-section of people in the organization.

Share accountability—Once the project is launched, it is important to spread the wealth! Make a clear timetable of deadlines and tasks with names and departments assigned to each one. You should also identify all points of failure (not just critical ones) and the repercussions of not meeting them. If assignments and time frames are clear, anyone on the team can call another to task if the deadlines are not met—not for blame, but for prevention.

Over-communicate—When in doubt, over-communicate! Communication should be a continuous process from beginning to end. Typically, if leadership feels overburdened with the amount of communication, it will feel like just the right amount for employees.

There is risk involved with embarking on a reach assignment. But, as with any risk, there can be great reward. You can establish yourself as a leader in your organization, help to impact your company’s bottom line, and give your career a boost by successfully implementing a reach project. By fully preparing yourself, your leadership team and the organization for your initiative, you can help mitigate the risk and set the organization on track to realize the benefits of your “reach.” Swing for the stars!

The Big Three—Tough Questions Every HR Manager Should Answer

Posted by Elaine Varelas September 3, 2012 09:00 AM

by Elaine Varelas, Managing Partner, Keystone Partners

It’s September and here at The Hire Authority, we’re taking a cue from the co-eds who are heading back to school. It’s time to wipe those vacation cobwebs from your eyes, shake the sand from your shoes and focus on work. Class is back in session. We’ll start by asking you the “Three Big Questions.” The answers to these can propel your organization into the future, position you as a leader in the company, and define your career in HR. Prepare for your first day of school pop quiz!

HR professionals often shy away from—or freak out about—these lofty, pie-in-the-sky exercises. But it is essential for constructing a focused and comprehensive strategic vision for HR. If your organization, like many, boasts that its people are the differentiator, then this is essential for the entire organization. Of course, if your organization is developing a company-wide strategic vision, your leadership team may be coming to you with these questions. Be one step ahead of your CEO and present her with your answers (instead of scrambling to think of something!). The questions are centered around the most important people issues—retention, recruitment, and leadership.

Who do we keep?
Who will we hire?
Who will lead?

Who do we keep?Of course, the answers to any of these three question must be closely aligned with the company’s business plan and strategic direction. In order to know who you want to retain, you need to have a vision of where the organization’s growth will be. What are the company’s business goals? What parts of the business will be developed over the next few years? Which of your current employees will help you reach those goals?

Once you’ve identified your MVPs, you need to develop strategies for keeping them.
You must implement the programs that are important to people. It has been proven countless times that money and perks aren’t what keep employees engaged. Employees would skip a free lunch in favor of a stretch assignment and other development opportunities. There needs to be a commitment company-wide for education and training opportunities. Employees want to hone their skills so they can be more marketable. (This is also how you develop your leaders.)

Equally important is to answer, who do we not want to keep? Some people have skills that may need to be phased out. This doesn’t mean wide-spread lay-offs. Your organization can take a more subtle approach. You could have a planned attrition, where you stop hiring for certain positions and skill sets, or active attrition where you can help people find external opportunities.

Who will we hire?
If you haven’t hired in a while, you will need to look at your hiring competencies. The skills and experience you hired for five years ago, may not be what you need this year or in the future. Unfortunately, many managers are so focused on immediate need, they hire to solve yesterday’s problems. In this time of economic thrift, it makes sense to hire for what the organization will need in the months and years ahead.

What are the competencies the organization, and each department, will need to grow moving forward? Does the organization have enough diversity in its’ employee base? What skill sets will be most in demand? Will the business model change? If so, can we fill the need? Where can we recruit these people?

Who will lead?
Take a look at the leadership team. Where are the holes? How will the make-up change over the next several years? Who will be the next CEO? Will you hire a CEO or develop a current employee to take on the role? Sometimes when you bring a CEO into an organization, it just doesn’t stick. It may be a better strategy to bring in a VP level person and groom him or her to become the CEO. This is why it’s important to do internal development to craft the kind of leaders the organization needs, and to take a long term view of recruitment.

Make sure to have a succession plan in place for every member of the leadership team, and a back-up plan in case of changes. This exercise shouldn’t be reserved for just the top, but for every senior manager in the company. In IT, finance, sales, marketing: who will the next leader be? Where are we finding our leaders? Internal development becomes vital to organization because they can grow the type of leaders your organization needs.

Organizations should strive to be more fluid, so a sudden departure doesn’t devastate a company or department. Back-fill positions and try cross-over assignments so employees are well-versed in more than one role.

By asking your team these three tough questions, you can help your organization reach its goals, differentiate your company by putting your people first, and give your HR career a boost by earning a spot at the leadership table.

A Q&A with The Hire Authority

Posted by Elaine Varelas August 6, 2012 09:00 AM

by Elaine Varelas

You have questions about HR? We have answers. Elaine Varelas, the face behind The Hire Authority, answers our readers’ questions:

1. I'm an HR professional with 8 years of experience. I’m in a dead-end job and was thinking about additional education or certification. I want to move into a leadership position in HR, if not at my current company then with another organization. Should I get an MBA or a SPHR (senior professional in human resources) certification?

Congratulations on making the decision to further your education. Many people who feel they’ve hit a ceiling in their current job look to a degree or certification to get their career back on track. Ultimately, you’re the only one who can answer the MBA v. SPHR dilemma, but I can help you through the process.

The first step is to do a frank career assessment. What are your strengths? Weaknesses? What is keeping you from moving forward? Are you lacking practical HR skills or leadership and business expertise?

Next look to where you want to be. Who are the people that hold your dream positions? What is their background? Look at their career and education histories. What degrees or certifications do they hold? If possible, set up an informational meeting with a role model.

Your decision may also be affected by geography. In the Northeast, an area strongly entrenched in academia, graduate degrees are desirable—especially ones from prestigious business schools. In the Midwest, however, SPHR certification is valued by many employers.

2. I'm taking a two week vacation this summer and thought I'd catch up on some business books. What are the new must reads for HR professionals?

Here are 5 great books for 2012:

1. The Power of Habit, Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Charles Duhigg 2012

2. How Will You Measure Your Life?, Clayton Christensen (HBS Professor and author of The Innovators Dilemma), 2012

3. Abundance, The Future is Better Than you Think, Peter Dimandis and Steven Kotler, 2012

4. Megachange: The World in 2050, Daniel Franklin, The Economist, 2012

5. 30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans, Karl Pillimer, Ph.D, 2012

3. I recently got a promotion. One of my new responsibilities is to serve as hiring manager for my division. My company hasn't done any hiring in several years, but we're set to hire sometime this summer. My problem? I haven't ever interviewed anyone before! I am feeling the pressure to do a good job. Do you have any tips for an inexperienced interviewer?

I can understand why you’re feeling pressure to perform, especially since your company hasn’t hired in some time. However, with the right preparation, you can ace these interviews! Before you begin, think about the kind of people your organization needs. If you haven’t hired in years, most likely the competencies have changed dramatically. What worked in the past won’t be right for the future.

One step you can take to prepare is to familiarize yourself with the legalese that’s common to the hiring process. What questions can you ask and which are off-limits? You may want to compile some questions ahead of time and ask advice from colleagues or associates who’ve interviewed recently for any tips. You also want to sell the company. What makes your organization unique?

You also need to ensure that the interview process is streamlined and efficient. A disorganized and drawn out process will result in a big black eye for the organization and can hurt your recruiting efforts. Make sure to respond to candidates promptly and show them courtesy and respect throughout the process.

4. I work in HR for a mid-sized company. Over the years, I've had requests from employees to work part-time, telecommute, job-share, or work flexible hours. While these schedules wouldn't work for every employee in the company, it would work for some. Unfortunately, the CEO is an "all or nothing" kind of guy. He wants people in the office during office hours and doesn't see any need for change since our retention is steady. At the very least, I think our organization's lack of flexibility is taking a toll on employee morale, but I also think we're going to lose people, especially when the economy improves. Do you have any advice on how I can make a case for flexibility?

Instituting this type of program can only succeed with buy-in from the top. You may have to do a little digging before you embark on this endeavor. What is your CEO’s true objection? Is it lack of trust in managers? A loss of control? Deciphering the answer can help you address his concerns.

Think about recruiting a champion for the cause. If a valued member (by the CEO) of the organization believes in the project and can help spearhead it, you will be more successful.

You may also want to start small. Suggest a pilot program with one manager and a few employees with a clear start and finish. If you’re successful, you can build upon it over time.

I applaud your dedication to creating flexible schedules. It isn’t just about retention, but also about recruiting. Remind your CEO that flexibility might be just the key to attracting top-tier candidates in the future.

It’s Time to Pump It Up! Build Your HR Muscles By Taking These Ten Challenges

Posted by Elaine Varelas July 2, 2012 09:00 AM

Summer is often touted as an ideal time to slim down. It is swimsuit season after all. What if I were to tell you that it is actually a great time to bulk up? Bulk up your HR skills, that is! Summer is typically a slower time at work—people take vacations, deadlines get stretched and many projects are put off until the fall. While it may seem like an opportunity to slack off and set cruise control until the leaves change, you may wan to consider challenging yourself to be a better HR professional. You can take advantage of the slower pace to improve your HR prowess. Instead of checking out, engage. Consider tackling one or all ten of these challenges to heat up your career this summer:

1. Take a meeting—There are meetings that are a priority (think clients, managers, CEO) and those that you may try to avoid. Try saying “yes” to a meeting that you typically wouldn’t take. Say “yes” to those informational meetings, lunch with a vendor, or an appointment with a salesperson. You may also want to seek out a meeting. Is there a client or customer you’ve been coveting? A mentor in your field you’d like to meet? Most of us have a lighter schedule during the hotter months and you can often make these meetings happen. Use this time to build new relationships and learn from them. You never know where they may lead.

2. Get published—Work to get your name in print. Write an article or column for you company newsletter, a trade association publication, or your local newspaper or business magazine. You’ve got opinions and ideas about what is happening in your industry. Share them!

3. Blog it!—You may have more than just one idea for an article. In addition to getting published in a media outlet, you can also start your own blog on your company web site or through LinkedIn or another social networking site. Blogging is a great way to demonstrate your expertise, increase exposure for you and your organization, and connect with clients and job-seekers.

4. Try to be more social (media)—As an HR professional, you’re probably on LinkedIn. Have you tried Facebook or Twitter? You may believe that Facebook is too social for business or Tweeting is just a waste of your time, but how do you know unless you try it? Commit to a 30-day trial of a social media site you haven’t considered before. Even if you don’t continue your subscription, you’ll be able to make a more informed decision.

5. Those who do, teach!—Make a goal to become a teaching organization. Recruit a junior person on your team as a student and teach him or her how to do a part of your job. This doesn’t have to be a formal mentor relationship, you can spend a hour or two teaching someone about the what, how, and why of any task. Encourage other managers in the organization to do the same. This can build morale in the company and foster more informed and engaged employees.

6. Branch out—Look into joining a new trade group. Many professional associations take a summer hiatus from meetings, but you can start your research. What groups could expand your network? You many want to look at an organization outside of HR. What are some of your organization’s vertical industry groups? Where are your clients and customers members? Which associations have a membership similar to your organization’s wish list of recruits?

7. Team up and cross train—Make a point to work across divisions on a project. If your focus is in employee relations, team up with a benefits professional in your company. This practice will help your organization’s HR team work more cohesively together and help each member brush up on some broader HR skills.

8. Get a speaking gig—Look into presenting at a trade show, a local professional group meeting, or a college class to share your expertise. You can build your brand while you hone your public speaking skills.

9. Read a book—Summer is traditionally time to devour a trashy novel, but once you’ve read that pick up a business book. You may want to re-read one of your favorites or pick a new tome that you’ve been meaning to peruse.

10. Get certified—Make a commitment to your education and your career and get your Senior Practitioner in Human Resources (SPHR) certification. Sign up for the test or join a study group.

Forget summer slacking, it’s time to bulk up! By following some or all of these ten tips, you can increase your HR knowledge, marketability, and expertise. Take advantage of the slower pace at the office and make a commitment to yourself and your career this summer and strengthen your HR muscles!

Manager Makeovers: How to Build a Better Manager

Posted by Elaine Varelas June 4, 2012 09:00 AM

One of the most important jobs for HR managers is doing periodic check-ins with managers. How are they performing? Do they need any other development, skill-building, or support? You may have exceptional managers in your organization, but there is always room for improvement. As the summer months approach, it may get less hectic at work, making it the perfect time to introduce the Manager Summer Institute. It could be your own version of Extreme Manager Makeover! Even if your managers don’t need a complete overhaul, it may be an ideal time to build on certain important skills with support from the human resources department. Here are some not-so-common strategies HR managers and other company managers can pursue that can drastically improve employee productivity, loyalty, and engagement:

Know what motivates your team—Discover that one thing that keeps each employee motivated at work. Is it a rearranged work schedule? Working from home two days a week? More salary? Positive reinforcement? A chance for development? Learning a new skill? A reach assignment? Talk to employees to find out what will get them jazzed about the job. Then develop individualized strategies to help keep them motivated.

Know what worries your team —What life challenges are dogging your employee? Is it an out of work spouse, that pesky two hour (each way!) commute, or an aging parent with medical issues? These are the concerns that consume your employees. They can’t stop thinking about them! And when they’re preoccupied with an issue outside of the job, it impacts their work. Managers may think these employee problems are none of their business, but the bottom line is that they impact productivity. Approach team members and create an open environment to talk about their life woes (of course with a guarantee that it won’t affect their standing at work). Sharing can help alleviate some of the burden they are carrying. The consequences of avoiding these conversations can mean a loss of productivity or even the employee. That out-of-work spouse may find a job across the country or a person may have to quit to take care of family or find a job with a shorter commute.

Address their needs—It’s one thing to know what keeps employees awake at night (and distracted at their desks) and another to do something about it. You don’t need to be Mother Theresa and solve all of your employees’ personal problems, but look for ways to make connections, introductions, or provide resources. Can you connect that out-of-work spouse with a recruiter or the HR director for an informational meeting? Can you make a connection on LinkedIn? Would you consider letting that commute-dreading staffer work from home one or two days a week or alter his work schedule to avoid heavy traffic times? Can you contact an EAP professional to lend assistance to the employee with an aging parent? Leverage your business and personal relationships to help out your team.

Be a chatty Cathy—Leadership teams often get together to develop a values-driven mission statement, a cutting-edge sales strategy, or a sound plan for growing the business with short and long-term goals and a timetable. Then that information stays at the top of the organization. Encourage managers to communicate important information to their teams. What is happening at the leadership level? How is this economy affecting us? What is happening with hiring? What are our leaders’ plans? How do we rate against the competition? How does each person’s role impact the organization as a whole? Treat each member on the team as if he or she is a stockholder. Communicating this information helps employees feel more invested in the organization and their work.

Give positive recognition in public, negative criticism in private—Don’t be a Bobby Valentine! Employees should be able to trust that their manager won’t throw them under the bus or bad-mouth them to others. The manager is ultimately responsible for the team’s success or failure. You want to present a united front to the rest of the company and the outside world. You should appear to everyone else (as well as strive to be in private) a cohesive team. Employees should also show their managers that same respect (no bad-mouthing at lunch!).

Ask for and use your feedback—Most organizations have multiple avenues, both formal and informal, for getting feedback—360 reviews, surveys, performance reviews and one-on-one meetings. What do managers do with this feedback? It isn’t always easy to hear constructive criticism, but it can be even more difficult to do something about it. Listen to feedback with an open mind and develop a plan for addressing your employees’ concerns.

Even if the managers in your organization don’t need an Extreme Manager Makeover, most can benefit from some development and skill-building. By following these six tips above, managers can become better at what they do and have happier, engaged, and more productive employees—creating a better work environment for everyone.

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do—When To End Professional Relationships

Posted by Elaine Varelas May 7, 2012 09:00 AM

By, Elaine Varelas

Nobody likes a break-up. They can be painful, messy, and emotional. Yet, ending a relationship isn’t always such a bad thing. Once it is over, we often realize in retrospect, that break-ups can be liberating, empowering, and even peaceful. Then why do so many of us have a hard time saying sayonara to our professional relationships? It isn’t easy to break up in the digital age, especially when it is such a breeze to stay connected.

We are intrinsically connected with virtually everyone we’ve ever met via cyberspace. We have online relationships with friends, family, colleagues—past and present—former classmates, clients, vendors, even our chiropractors, vets, and dentists!

In the past, if a colleague took a job at another company, you might run into her at a conference, but wouldn’t see her on a daily basis. Now, even if we don’t see people often, they can pop up on our computer or smartphone screens with regularity. When our relationships change in “real life”—a colleague leaves, you switch vendors, lose a client, or change dentists—they don’t automatically disappear online. You need to make a conscious decision about if and how you will maintain that relationship on the Internet. Do you continue to stay connected or disengage? What if that colleague now works for a competitor? What if the client is working with your rival? What if the vendor is now a sheep farmer in Scotland? What if your chiropractor provides hourly updates about the most mundane details of his life?

The other issue we face is that we live in a culture of “More! More! More!” In fact, many people judge themselves and others by how many friends they have on Facebook, how many connections they’ve made on LinkedIn, and how many followers they’ve built on Twitter and blogs. We’re programed to believe that having more connections implies success and increased business prowess. Many of us don’t see the advantages of ending professional relationships, especially online. What is the harm of having too many connections? Why bother ending them?

We can’t be connected to everyone in the world—and why would we want to be? Relationships take time, and in this 24/7 business reality, our time is a precious commodity. We’re making an investment every time we check in online to read posts and comment on items from people in our network. Some of us don’t have that time and so we, in turn, are neglecting our relationships. But our professional connections are extremely valuable. In some cases, when colleagues become competitors or a contact moves light years out of your business orbit, it may make sense to let them go.

You should be regularly taking stock of your online relationships. Some may have changed since you first connected. You also need to give yourself permission to be selective and end relationships. It is okay to go against the trend of more is better. What do you want out of your relationships? What do they mean to you? Identify those people with whom you are actively engaged in a positive professional relationship. The others? If you like these people on a personal level and want to keep in touch, by all means do. Otherwise, hit delete.

You’ve weeded through your online contacts and are ready to disconnect, but how do you do it? Should you make a stealth maneuver and unfriend your colleagues under the cover of darkness? Do you need to call a meeting to give people your reasons for termination? In most cases, you don’t need to give notice. There may be some instances when you want to contact people by phone or email and give an explanation as a professional courtesy. For example, “Now that we work for competing companies, it’s probably best if you don’t follow me on Twitter anymore.” For most relationships, however, you can just end it.

That, of course, begs the question, how do I physically end relationships online? On LinkedIn, click on the “Contacts” tab and then hit “Remove Connections” in the upper right hand column. If you want to “unfriend” someone on Facebook, go to that person’s profile page, hover over the “Friends” box at the top of their profile and click “Unfriend.” Blocking a follower on Twitter is also a cinch. Just log onto your Twitter account, go to the profile page of the person you want to block, click the “person” icon, and then select “block.”

Now that you know how to end your online relationships, try it! You may be surprised at how easy it is and how great you’ll feel! Despite our obsession with having more friends, followers and connections than everyone else, it can be a drain on your time and can even hurt the business relationships you value most. Not only can breaking up be good for you, but it isn’t so hard to do after all!

What’s New In Social Media?

Posted by Elaine Varelas March 5, 2012 08:00 AM

I know of at least a few HR traditionalists who were secretly hoping that the social media frenzy would quickly go the way of the mimeograph machine and typewriter, becoming obsolete and fading away. In fact, the opposite is happening. According to a comScore report, social networking accounts for one of every six minutes spent online. It’s growing exponentially and has a significant and dynamic impact on business. Having a social media “presence” isn’t enough any more. Organizations that don’t have a concentrated, encompassing social media strategy are being left behind.

While social media’s early adopters may have been the ubertechies and middle-schoolers, it isn’t just the realm of teens, tweens, and geeks anymore. Believe it or not, according to a 2011 Pew Internet and American Life study, the average age of Facebook users is 38! Social media sites, such as LinkedIn, Pinterst, and Twitter, are being utilized by millions of Americans for professional endeavors. Here’s what you need to know and do to be a social media star:

Accept it –Social media is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. It isn’t just “fun” or “interesting,” but is quickly emerging as a powerful tool for HR and other business areas. Once you accept this fact, you can figure out how it can (and will) impact your organization. If you can learn how to harness it you, can get out in front of it.

Change your perceptions (and those of leaders) —There is an erroneous perception that social media is for the slacker generation. But it isn’t just for people who like to while away hours on the computer playing silly games or those who are too socially awkward to connect face-to-face and have to resort to hiding behind a computer screen. Social media is a viable business tool. It isn’t just for the marketing team or IT department. Used the correct way, it can drive business, attract customers and employees, and help to build a brand. HR professionals may have to work within the organization to change these perceptions. Those whose job it is to take the lead on social media strategies cannot be deemed as having a less important—or more frivolous—job than others in the company.

Educate yourself –If you think a Tweet is a sound a bird makes and Pinterst is a typo, it is time to learn about social media. You may have a personal understanding of social media (hey, you’re on Facebook!) or a peripheral knowledge of how the technology works, but you need to build your business-based knowledge. How can you drive business, attract customers and clients, and recruit new employees? How are job seekers using it? Customers? Competitors? You can educate yourself, take a seminar, or enlist an expert at your organization to become your social media mentor.

Get a person (or a team) —Have a designated person to work on social media strategies. If you’re in a large organization, you may need a team or a department. Social media is fluid. It changes everyday. You can’t just put a plan in place and follow it. The plan could be obsolete within a week! You will fall behind if you don’t have that person to update and implement your plan.

Have a strategy —It is possible to waste your time on Facebook or Pinterest (face it, we’ve all done it). While it’s okay to waste a few hours on a Saturday morning, it shouldn’t be done on business time. Have a policy of “who” and “what”—who should be using the technology and how. What is expected of people in different positions? At many companies, middle managers aren‘t even on LinkedIn. They may think they “don’t have time” or that time spent on social media won’t be valued. Management also needs to be educated about how social media can help the organization, not to mention how it can help them reach their own department (customers, sales, referrals, retention) goals.

Take the lead —Where do the social media conversations happen? Who is involved in making decisions? It should be done at the leadership level. These aren’t backroom conversations in the IT department. Social media can reach active and passive job seekers. It can also be a valuable retention tool and help to build brand and company awareness and loyalty. It can touch almost every aspect of business so it needs to be given credence by company leaders. Not too long ago company leaders were wondering if every employee should have a computer. Leaders should be having these same conversations about social media.

Despite your secret wishful thinking, social media is here to stay—and it is changing at lightning fast speed. Instead of lamenting it, get out in front of it. It is time to embrace social media before you miss out on a tremendous business tool.

Business Ethics: Does HR Have a Role?

Posted by Elaine Varelas February 6, 2012 09:00 AM

By Elaine Varlelas

It seems as though we can’t open a newspaper or click on a news web site these days without reading about yet another business scandal--insider trading at prominent hedge funds, Ponzi schemes, falsified data at biotech companies, and breaches in accounting and reporting practices. It seems that fraud and wrongdoing have become commonplace in business.

Kenneth Lay of Enron, Dennis Kozlowski of Tyco, and Bernie Madoff, king of the Ponzi scheme, are just some of the most prominent poster boys for corporate scandal. Ethical gaffes are becoming so prevalent that it is no longer a matter of if another person will be added to this cast of characters, but who and when. Americans’ trust in business has eroded to a point of widespread dubiety. How does this phenomenon affect your organization? As an HR professional, what is your role in addressing ethics within your company?

Given the sheer amount of scandal lately, it would be irresponsible--and even dangerous--for HR professionals, or any business leader, to ignore ethics. Of course, it’s a slippery topic. It is difficult to define, and often can’t be categorized into neat boxes of right and wrong. The complexity and ambiguity of ethics could lead many HR professionals to want to avoid the topic altogether. Yet, addressing ethics is an important part of any business plan. If an organization’s leadership only focuses on results, the methods used to attain those results could be suspect. Even Bernie Madoff started out with good intentions!

Yet with such a lofty and complex subject, how can HR managers include ethics into company policy and strategies? The first step is to invite ethics to the table. Ethics need to be part of every organization’s culture, business plan, goals, and mission statement. It should be a focus of the onboarding process, leadership training, and board retreats. Ethics should help shape the organization’s values and culture.

It isn’t enough for a company’s mission statement to include a vague line about being ethical. HR professionals should help leadership and employees define what that means for the organization. Having real conversations about what could happen in a given organization or industry will help to bring the topic closer to home. What is happening elsewhere in business? Have any competitors been cited for ethical breaches? What types of ethical issues could unfold at this organization? What safeguards can we put in place to make sure that doesn’t happen?

The surest way to prevent ethical slips is to give it credence within an organization. Employees and company leaders can talk about it, evaluate how it can affect their roles in the company, and take steps to avoid questionable situations.

Of course prevention is the best option, but what can HR professionals do next? What if, despite having prevention practices in place, there are ethical breaches in the organization?

First, HR managers need to make sure that whistle-blowers are protected. Employees need to know that they won’t be punished if they report their serious suspicions to human resources. This will help create an environment of trust and transparency in the organization in a supportive manner. Many companies also have ethics panels to review problematic situations and recommend discipline. While this is a worthwhile effort, it’s important to assure that the disciplinary process is consistent, regardless of who may be the subject of the scrutiny. Are managers subject to review, but leaders exempt? Is a poorly performing CEO treated differently than a successful CEO?

It may seem logical to let small indiscretions slide or look the other way when a rock-star leader has methods that are less than ethical, especially if the results are fruitful. After all, who will know? Everyone, in reality. When the organization tolerates exceptions, sweeps things under the rug for certain people, or ignores ethical breaches altogether, these insidious behaviors become part of the organization’s culture.

One way to gauge a response to an ethical situation is to imagine that every employee, as well as the world outside the company, would find out. If it was certain that news of the breach would hit the Internet tomorrow, would you do anything differently? This strategy can help put the situation in perspective and can keep an organization’s solution to an ethical issue in check.

Ethics are part of every decision, every action, and every strategy within an organization Build high ethics into the core fabric of the culture so that it influences all behavior. This may seem like a “Pollyanna” view of the world and business. But we’ve seen many companies implode because of scandals. The tombstones in the businesses-that-were graveyard are numerous. By keeping ethical discussions at the forefront of your organization’s business strategy and addressing ethical breaches promptly and fairly, you can ensure a long and healthy life for your organization.

Elaine Varelas is Managing Partner of Keystone Partners, a Boston-based career consulting firm.

The Year In Review: Best and Worst in HR

Posted by Elaine Varelas January 9, 2012 09:00 AM

Happy New Year! We hear this greeting every January, but there is something different about 2012. Colleagues, clients, and business executives around Boston and beyond are looking at the new year with a mix of anticipation, enthusiasm, and anxiety. All of us are hoping that this is the year the economy goes from shaky to robust, consumer confidence is restored, and we can all stop holding our breath!

As we embark on a new year, it is a perfect time to reflect on the past 12 months. As HR professionals, what did we do well and what can we do better? What can we resolve to change for 2012? Where should we focus our energy to create strong teams, engaged and productive employees, and a sound organization?

Here is a list of the Best and Worst in HR last year. There are some cringe-worthy “worsts” and some “bests” that shine a bright light on the HR profession and show how human resource professionals can change and grow an organization. Here ‘s the worst of the last year:

Not hiring the unemployed--Being unemployed does not mean people are unemployable. There is a shameful trend among hiring managers of not even considering people who are between jobs. There is no reason for it! Many highly capable professionals were laid off because of the economy. They are not inferior and not suspect. Denying people a chance because of their employment status and not their knowledge and experience goes against the strategy of building a skilled and valued talent team. HR professionals should be vociferous in speaking out against this practice.

Lack of follow-up--Yes, organizations are being inundated with resumes from eager job seekers looking for work. Hiring managers may have thousands of resumes for each open position. It may be impossible to get in touch with every person who sends in a blind resume (although an auto response email is a welcome courtesy and not costly). There is no excuse, however, for lack of communication after people have interviewed. These people have invested their time and deserve a personal follow-up conversation (no form letters or emails!). Making those unpleasant calls is part of being a grown-up HR professional.

Lopsided networking--Savvy HR professionals use their network for making connections, getting introductions, and finding talent. Yet too many people forget that a network is a reciprocal relationship. It may be inconvenient to return those phone calls or take a meeting, especially if you don’t see yourself “needing” anything from your network soon. Of course, you will utilize your network one day and if you dip into your network pool too many times without refiling it, it will dry up.

Don’t fret though, last year’s HR trends weren’t all bad. Many organizations’ HR practices have been exemplary. Here is the best of 2011:

HR professionals as lifelong learners--The practice of HR is continuously evolving and many professionals are pursuing advanced degrees, HR or coaching certification, and other educational opportunities to round out their repertoire of skills. This is an important development because leadership at many organizations are (finally!) investing in their HR teams because they recognize that talented HR professionals are vital to remaining competitive in business. HR professionals should seek education, degrees, and certifications to further their practice and give their organizations an edge, not just to pad their resumes and add letters to the end of their titles. All education is enhanced, however, when coupled with everyday experience in the workplace.

Talent is tops--The most successful organizations have a talent strategy that is pursued as aggressively and with the same amount of integrity as their financial, IT, or other imperative strategies. Talent management is no less vital. Are your organization’s decisions about talent made with the same vigor, logic, and strategic connection as your products, finances, and other business lines? The most competitive organizations are already doing this.

Engagement starts with leadership teams--During the recent recession, many organizations changed their business strategies, working towards efficiency and cost-cutting. Some applied the “cut and slash” mentality to their employees--eliminating bonuses, cutting benefits, and restricting rewards. Yet many organizations have weathered the downturn without excessive employee fall out, keeping their culture intact. They have taken a long-term view to talent and realize that the economy doesn’t change how employees are treated. It isn’t something that is affected by financial tides. Senior leaders are visible and accessible. Generosity and appreciation are practiced because leadership realizes that talent is the most important resource in a company.

It is a new year and an opportune time to resolve to discontinue the “worst” practices and make a commitment to follow these HR best practices. By doing so, HR professionals can showcase their skills and help guarantee their organization’s employment brand for 2012 and beyond.

2011: Year in Review

Posted by Aaron Green December 23, 2011 09:00 AM

As 2011 winds down and we prepare to welcome 2012, here is a look at how the HR practices at Boston area employers evolved over the past year and what their expectations are for hiring, recruiting and HR expenditures in the year ahead. 

The data on Boston employment trends and issues was taken from a quarterly survey of Boston-area employers conducted by my company, Professional Staffing Group. For the past two years we have surveyed our clients each quarter about their plans for staffing and hiring, salary and compensation, concern over retention and recruiting talent and budgets for HR spending.

When we surveyed our clients at this time last year, results revealed the most positive outlook on hiring and compensation since the recession began. At that time,

  • Many more employers expected to add staff is 2011. The number of employers planning to add staff spiked in the fourth quarter of 2010. 54 percent of employers said they planned to add staff over the next 12 months. 
  • Uncertainty about employment was decreasing. In the third quarter of 2010 25 percent of respondents answered "unknown" when asked about headcount levels for the year ahead, but in the fourth quarter only 10 percent answered "unknown" when asked to predict headcount levels in the next 12 months.
  • Compensation was increasing. More employers said they had increased compensation for their staff by the end of 2010 and 82 percent said they expected to increase compensation in the year ahead. 
  • Employers were holding the line on expenditures. The majority of respondents answered that they planned to keep budgets at the same level when it comes to tradeshows/conferences, seminar attendance, travel in general, internal training and development, professional certification, and reimbursement for continuing education.
  • The number of respondents who said employee engagement is a significant problem doubled from those who were asked the same question the previous quarter (18% in Q4 vs 9% in Q3)
  • Employers were starting to feel the strain when it comes to recruiting: The number of respondents who answered "not a problem" (29%) or "significant problem" (18%) remained essentially the same, but the number who said recruiting top talent is a minor problem jumped to 50% from 37% in the previous quarter.

Three months later, things were still looking good. Respondents to our Q1 2011 survey indicated that:

  • Compensation increases were continuing and more employers were giving higher increases
  • Employers were positive about hiring, but cautious
  • HR budgets largely remained flat
  • Although concern over retention hadn't changed much, employers expressed more concern about recruiting and employee engagement

However, by the mid-point of 2011 many employers and HR managers were putting the brakes on. In our Q2 survey we found that:

  • Planned employee headcounts had leveled off
  • Compensation increases had also leveled off
  • Employers continued to hold the line on expenditures
  • Employee training and development was the one budget that employers said they planned to increase 
  • Recruiting continued to become more of a concern

Three months ago we posted the results from our Q3 survey, which found:

  • Staffing level expectations had continued to moderate
  • While less robust, hiring expectations were still positive
  • Compensation increases slipped slightly
  • Spending on HR-related items was expected to level off

It's clear that 2011 didn't produce the growth that employers were optimistically seeking back in Q4 2010. However, by most indications the worst we can say about the past year is that employers proceeded cautiously by tempering compensation increases and hiring and holding steady on HR expenditures. 

A look at the November report from the state's Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development is encouraging. According to the report, Massachusetts' unemployment rate in November fell to its lowest level in nearly three years as employers added jobs for the second consecutive month. Other signs that the state's hiring levels may be picking up: more employers, both large and small sized, say they plan to hire; online job advertisements have increased; and fewer people are applying for unemployment benefits.

Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the chairman of the American Staffing Association's Board of Directors. He can be reached at or (617) 250-1000.

Make a Wish--Here’s What Tops Employees’ Wish Lists

Posted by Elaine Varelas December 5, 2011 09:00 AM

by Elaine Varelas

We’ve all seen the stereotypes of bad bosses in the media: the Ogre, the Scrooge, the Sexist, and the Dictator. The portrayal of crummy bosses garners big laughs and big bucks. The movie Horrible Bosses, The Office television show, and the Dilbert comic strip all capitalize on clueless, nasty, and punishing leaders. Of course, these are popular for a reason. Most of us can relate to the caricature of the hideous employer. It may resonate even more today since employees have been knocked around by the recession (lay-offs, cut backs, and skeleton crews) and the oh-so-slow climb out of it.

As another economically tumultuous year winds down, many corporate leaders are making their pleas to Santa with their business wish lists. They’re wishing for an influx of new business, bigger operating budgets, and a year flush with cash. As an HR professional in your organization, you are helping these wishes come true with your talent management strategies and programs. At the same time, you’re also probably making your gift lists for your kids, best friend, and grandmother. As the holidays approach and the frenzy ensues, don’t forget the wish list of the VIPs of your organization--your employees.

If your employees could be candid and honest with you about what they want and need from your organization, what would they say? Here at The Hire Authority we’ve persuaded employees to whisper in our ear about their wish list. These wishes are not just from your current employees, but we also contacted the ghosts of employees past and future (we are the Hire Authority after all!). Here’s what HR professionals can do to tune into employees’ needs and help meet them:

All we are saying is give us a chance--John Lennon may have been referring to Peace on Earth when he sang this line, but employees are setting their sights on something else: they want a chance to work for you. The current trend of employers becoming extremely rigid in their hiring criteria (only hiring people who are currently employed or have an exact experience match) automatically excludes too many highly talented people from the hiring mix. HR managers should encourage their organizations’ leaders to take that chance on the people who aren’t a perfect fit, but would still be a valuable addition to the team. People have a long memory. When the war for talent heats up, those people will remember that your organization didn’t give them a chance in 2011 and will reciprocate.

Try generosity--Amid the budget cuts and belt tightening so prevalent today, employers are becoming less generous. Companies are slashing perks, foregoing bonuses, and cutting programs. One company in New England whose offices lost power after a freak October snow storm, forced employees to use their vacation time during the days the office was closed. Yikes! Try being generous and not just sticking to the letter of the law. Think less Ebenezer, more Santa. Benevolent organizations have happier employees, and happiness breeds loyalty and productivity.

Let me “get a life”-- Employees want a life outside of work. They want flexibility and don’t want to be penalized for taking advantage of that flexibility. They will get the work done, especially if their employers give them access to the technology to do it. Of course, just because they have technology, doesn’t mean they are available 24/7. HR professionals can help employees strike the right work/life balance.

Invest in our development--Development, training, and continuing education shouldn’t be reserved for just the executive-level superstars. Your leaders were once junior employees too. As budgets continue to tighten, organizations can’t forget about developing future stars. There should be companywide development programs, mentor programs, stretch assignments to make sure that every employee has the chance to be the executive-level superstar.

Give thanks--Too often, employees aren’t recognized for the work they do. A manager takes all the credit or believes that saying “thank you” isn’t important. It may be difficult for organizational leaders to recognize employees with money or promotions during lean times, but HR professionals can still encourage a culture where employees are thanked for the work they do.

Treat us like talent--Employees are the engine who bring in business, deal with clients, and grow the business. They are the organization’s talent and should be treated as such. How do you treat talent? Famous rock stars and actors may demand champagne and green M&Ms, but employees just want to be treated fairly and with respect. They don’t want to be seen as human resources, but as human beings.

As you put together your gift list for the holidays, don’t forget to include your organization’s employees. HR professionals can help ensure that leadership is aware of their employees’ needs and help to institute policies that will retain and delight employees during the holidays and all year long. Happy holidays to you and yours!

Elaine Varelas is a Managing Partner at Keystone Partners, a Boston-based career consulting firm.

Evaluating the Annual Performance Review

Posted by Aaron Green November 28, 2011 11:47 AM

In recent years the annual performance review has undergone a makeover. For instance, now we no longer assume reviews only occur annually and most are no longer delivered "top-down" but incorporate input from multiple sources, including the employee being reviewed. Some companies have experimented with the frequency of performance reviews and some have tried eliminating them altogether. But, in some form or another, performance reviews play a necessary role in company culture. 

Performance reviews are an essential part of our workplaces, they just might look different these days. Here's what's new:

Performance is reviewed more frequently - whether it's because a new generation of employees has expectations of instantaneous feedback or whether the work we are doing is more project based and easier to review upon project completion, managers are increasing the frequency of their feedback as this Wall Street Journal article asserts.

Reviews are moving online - paper-based files are indeed a thing of the past, but it's not just online accessibility and file sharing that companies are taking advantage of. Now, some firms are using social media conventions to highlight performance and share feedback. Social media enables organizations to be more transparent and share goals, expectations and status updates. Social media can also make it easy to recognize and reward good work, e.g. through endorsements, recommendations or 'badges' for excellence. In a few years we may be used to a whole new form of online reputation management.

Workers aren't always visible - as the number of remote workers increases, managers face challenges in communicating, making accurate evaluations and 'connecting' with their staff. Reviewing the performance of a telecommuter or remote worker is similar to the review of a traditional office worker, but along with the benefit(s) of working remotely comes additional responsibilities and remote workers should also be evaluated on their ability to participate in group or department meetings and events and their ability to communicate and report on progress.

Self-evaluation - while 360 degree reviews seem to have seen the last of their 15 minutes' of fame, self-evaluations are in vogue and perhaps here to stay. From having employees take a "first cut" at their evaluation, to implementing a back-and-forth comment-response approach, performance reviews aim to be more interactive.

Probably the only thing that hasn't changed over the years is the dread that some employees and managers have for them. I'd like to say that the changes we've seen have resulted in a more positive experience for everyone involved but getting to that point that appears to be a tough balancing act.

On one hand, employers use performance reviews to benchmark career advancements and distribute merit rewards. On the other, they use performance reviews to give constructive feedback and motivate performance. Too much of one and not enough of the other can result in miscommunication, misperception and unhappy workers. Another reason performance reviews get a bad rap is because they involve people - and people bring their own biases, personalities and politics to the process.

As employers and HR representatives, there are several steps we can take to aim to improve the performance review process.

First, ensure the frequency of the review fits the circumstances. Not all work is suited to a formal review just once a year. Take a look at the various types of work performed in your organization and shape the review process to that schedule. For instance, it may make more sense to evaluate your product developers after the launch of the latest product release. 

It's also important to avoid surprises at the time of the evaluation. Layering your feedback throughout the review period helps to "set the stage" for a formal discussion and also helps the employee prepare for a more interactive and constructive discussion.

In recent years there's been talk of doing away with formal performance reviews, but personally I can't imagine running an effective HR function without them. Performance reviews are necessary contributors to company goal-setting, feedback and coaching and useful for setting performance expectations and establishing parameters for reward. Perhaps the most important step we can take to make them more effective is to explain their role in our organization and how they are linked with other important business metrics.

Please share your thoughts on making performance reviews more effective in the comment section below.

Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at or (617) 250-1000.

HR Manager to Organizational Leader--Making the Shift

Posted by Elaine Varelas November 7, 2011 09:00 AM

Securing a seat at the leadership table has been a goal of human resources professionals for over a decade. Those of us who have dedicated our careers to HR are constantly touting the importance of organizational talent and the need to fully utilize the work force’s potential to achieve business goals. Some organizations have embraced this truth, inviting HR executives into the C-suite to help drive business decisions. Leaders at other organizations, however, have yet to recognize HR’s role in company leadership.

Regardless of where your organization currently sits on this scale, now is an opportune time to make the shift from HR manager to organizational leader. The global marketplace and proliferation of technology is changing the way we work--particularly in HR. Our workforce is becoming a global 24-hour a day force, moving out of the cubicle to virtually any corner of the world, making it more complicated to manage talent. At the same time, transactional HR functions--benefits, vacation requests, time sheets--are being replaced by technology as employees go online instead of to an HR representative to conduct some of the traditional HR functions. The role of HR professionals must evolve to remain relevant.

Take a look at how you view yourself in your job. What are your perceptions of your role (knowing that your perceptions help shape those of others within the organization)? What does it mean to be a manager? Typically, managers are task-oriented and reactive. HR managers fill positions, respond to inquiries, and address individual conflicts or issues. In contrast, a leader is a visionary. Talent is not just a vacant position to fill--it is your product. Service organizations are ahead of the curve in recognizing that their people are their product, but this is also true for companies that produce a tangible product. How will your product (talent) drive business services? What is your vision? How will it impact the organization?

A visionary is someone who looks to the future and anticipates needs. Successful organizations will need to be agile, flexible, and forward-thinking to remain competitive. How does your talent strategy achieve these goals? What are your current and future skill gaps? What parts of the business will create the most value going forward? How can you invest in talent in these areas? Can you identify the obstacles to acquiring this talent? How will you overcome those obstacles? At every potential point of failure, how will you address it? Where are your future leaders coming from? How will you develop them? How will you hold onto talent? What is your succession plan? How will you retain knowledge?

Becoming an HR visionary makes sense in theory, but how does it work? It must be a systemic movement throughout the company. Of course, HR managers must view themselves as organizational leaders, but every senior manager in the organization must also be on the leadership track. In fact, at every level within the organization, HR professionals can work to identify, grow, and retain A-level leadership.

It is essential that leadership development opportunities become part of the culture and not just a one-time event. Sending select employees to training once a year isn’t enough--even with the nifty binder they bring back! Leaders need to be groomed throughout the year. Leadership competencies should be part of job descriptions and performance reviews. Leadership training can also be implemented through stretch and lateral assignments, as well as assignments designed to enhance specific skills. Some companies also have a leadership “university” for high-potential employees. Mentor programs can also help to develop leaders and share knowledge. Many organizations also partner with universities, business colleges, and law schools where employees can serve as faculty or board members. Internship and summer programs are a great way to grow and recruit new employees for the organization. Employees can also be encouraged to serve on boards at neighboring non-profits to increase goodwill in the community, raise visibility of the organization, and develop leadership skills.

In order to help the organization make the shift from one that accepts its leaders to one that creates and fosters them, it is vital there be a common language and goal within the organization. HR professionals must make sure there is a clear definition of what it means to be a leader, as well as commonality about how leadership development will happen. It can’t be haphazard or look different in each department. There should also be agreement from the executive team on leadership competencies, which should then be communicated throughout the organization so employees and leaders are clear on what is expected and rewarded.

It’s an exciting time to be an HR professional. The role of HR is evolving as companies go global and technology continues to alter how we work. Talent is emerging as the most important tool in a business’ drive to be competitive. Of course, as an HR professional, you know talent. By becoming a visionary, and anticipating and addressing the future needs of your company, you can make the shift from an HR manager to an organizational leader.

Elaine Varelas is Managing Partner of Keystone Partners, a Boston-based career management firm.

Twitter for HR

Posted by Aaron Green November 4, 2011 08:54 AM

By now, most of us know what Twitter is even if we don't use it extensively. But what you may not be aware of are all the ways HR practitioners are finding value on Twitter. Just as the number of people with accounts on Twitter has grown (up to 100 million), so have the uses for this free application.

From recruiting to networking to staying on top of industry developments, here are a few of the ways HR pros are using Twitter:

Recruiting - Twitter is a free medium for sharing posted job openings with an expanded audience. You can also use hashtags, e.g. end your tweet with #jobs or #FinanceJobs, to make your posts findable by a wider audience. Inc. Magazine published this article on using Twitter for recruiting

Networking - Like LinkedIn and Facebook, Twitter can be used as a social network for staying in touch with people you already know or those you admire and would like to know better.

Education/sharing information - Billed as a micro-blogging platform, Twitter's initial purpose was to promote links to blogs, which makes it a great way to access articles and blogs you're interested in reading. Following HR news organizations, associations, legislators, vendors or consultants on Twitter is one way to get the latest industry news.

Chat - Twitter allows you to connect and communicate with others one-on-one or in a one-to-many format. Chats are a good example of the latter. Chats are organized by topic and run by a moderator but open to anyone who wants to participate. This Google docs spreadsheet offers a guide to over 500 different Twitter chats including: #CareerChat, CareerBuilder's #CBjobchat, the #ConnectingHR community's #CHRchat, #GenYjobs, #HFchat (part of #HireFriday community project) and #jobhuntchat.

Share experience of live events - tweeting live events or webinars has become pretty common. Doing so enables the attendees to participate in "side"conversation and the non-attendees to follow what's happening or being said.

Build your brand - Twitter is more than another way to broadcast company news. It also gives you a chance to connect with and share your perspective with followers.

Want to get started? Here's a list of 50 HR experts to follow on Twitter.   

Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions, or @PSGStaffing on Twitter. He is also the chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at or (617) 250-1000.

Demystifying Executive Presence

Posted by Elaine Varelas October 3, 2011 09:00 AM

The next presidential election is still over a year away, yet we’re already seeing ads, debates, and polls. Most candidates, and certainly those who emerge as front-runners and win elections, have a unique combination of intelligence, confidence, energy, charm, and character. They also have that certain something that draws people in, garners trust, and gives the impression that they are born to be leaders: executive presence.

Most HR managers are familiar with executive presence, but it can be elusive and difficult to define. We know it when we see it, and of course we know it when we don’t see it. Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, and Warren Buffet are business leaders who exude executive presence. But are people just born with it, or can they develop it? As HR managers we know it is critical to success, but there is no clear roadmap for developing this competency.

What is Executive Presence?
It may help to define executive presence so we can see where HR managers can improve their own, as well as that of leaders within their companies. Executive presence is a combination of the external and internal. The internal is further broken down to include a person’s acumen and core philosophy.

The external are the traits that others see, including physical attributes, facial expressions, voice and articulation, attitude, energy and mannerisms. These are qualities that we are born with, but can be changed. External traits also include dress, grooming, posture, and etiquette.

The internal part of executive presence is divided between a person’s acumen and core.
Acumen are the skills and experience you would see on a resume. They include education, work experience, skills, preparation, and strategic thinking. These qualities drive confidence and credibility.

The core encompasses a person’s values and philosophy. It includes integrity, directness, honesty, sincerity, thoughtfulness, relationships, vulnerability, listening skills, optimism and self-awareness. This is who the person is at his or her core.

The only way for executive presence to emerge is for all of these to work congruently. If one area is lacking, then the whole package is affected. The deficiency isn’t always easy to recognize. For instance, in politics, you often hear, “There’s something about Candidate X I don’t trust, but I can’t put my finger on it.” Identifying the shortcoming can be challenging, but people can improve their executive presence.

Developing Executive Presence
Developing executive presence isn’t easy, but it is possible. It requires focus, commitment, preparation, and practice. The first step is to identify the area for improvement. Is it part of the external, the acumen or the core? It is almost impossible for us to examine ourselves and see our own weaknesses. We may also think that our faults “don’t matter” in the scheme of work when others believe they do. That’s why it is important to gather outside feedback. In some organizations, there are formal feedback channels such as performance or 360 degree reviews. These are great tools for culling information about where you can improve. If your organization doesn’t have these, ask trusted colleagues for help. You can also look at the “stars” in your organization and take note of their skills. This examination can help you determine what qualities are valued within the organization.

Once you’ve identified the area, you need to pinpoint the specific need. For example, if feedback states you look unprofessional, it is most likely part of the external. If there is a question of credibility (“He doesn’t seem prepared. He can’t give our team answers to our questions.”), it may fall under the acumen category. An example of a core deficiency could be, “My manager doesn’t give anyone a chance to speak and doesn’t value input from others.”

Fortunately, these are all coachable, yet some are more easily changed than others. The external issues can be altered with a new suit, hair cut, or accessories.

The credibility issue can also be addressed. The manager would be coached to over-prepare for meetings and show that he is an expert on the topic. He should have supporting documents and materials to back up what he says. He should also anticipate questions. Being prepared and authoritative is one way to increase your credibility.

The manager with the core issue of not listening or valuing others can also sharpen those skills. Her coaching would include arriving to meetings on time with her iPhone turned off. She can practice listening to others, including waiting a few beats after she and others speak to see if they have anything else to add. She can also work on encouraging and validating ideas within the group. Her core values may be influenced by changes in her external behavior.

The key is that this is a continuous improvement model. It is not a singular event. One new suit or being prepared for a single meeting isn’t going to change perceptions. It needs to be a consistent improvement until the change is happening more often than not, and people’s perceptions are influenced.

Whether an HR manager wants to work on her own executive presence or that of her team, there is a framework for identifying the need and addressing it. When the external, acumen and core work in tandem, true, authentic leaders emerge.

Elaine Varelas is Managing Partner of Keystone Partners in Boston.

Planning Tips for Staffing a Contingent Workforce

Posted by Aaron Green September 19, 2011 09:00 AM

Reports on contingent staffing show that up to a quarter of jobs in many organizations are filled with contingent staff, and that nearly 90 percent of employers have either maintained or increased the size of their contingent workforce since September 2008, the beginning of the economic crisis. 

Contingent staff includes a wide range of employee types, including: temporary employees hired through an agency or directly by the employer, part-time employees, outsourced jobs and job functions, retirees who return to work, consultants, freelancers, independent contractors and on-call workers.

Why is contingent staffing an attractive workforce option right now? In times of economic uncertainty many employers are wary of investing in full-time hires but see contingent staff as a way to mitigate risk. As I wrote in a previous column, contingent staffing is also attractive because it offers employers flexibility (for bringing in skills only when needed), cost savings (by not carrying a worker's salary during slow periods) and the opportunity to "try before you buy"with a new employee.

Whether you're considering contingent staffing or already employing flexible staff, here are some tips for incorporating it effectively and determining the right mix for your organization:

Consider factors that impact contingent staffing -- most often this means considering financial factors, such as salary, benefits, cost of training, and determining if it's beneficial to have the same work done by contingent staff. Your ability to predict staffing needs 6 months or more into the future is also an indicator -- if you don't have certainty around your medium-term staffing needs, short-term contingent staff could be a good option. Other factors include the type of work involved and whether the talent pool for that type of work job is deep.

Ask yourself if this is the right time to bring on contingent staff -- Are you gearing up for a big project, production cycle or seasonal demand? Do you need certain skills, but only for a finite time period? Do you want to make long-term staff increases, but prefer to take baby steps first? 

Determine the right mix of contingent staffing for your firm -- The "right"mix varies by industry, it varies by company, and it even varies over time for individual companies. You should look at your particular circumstances and assess the right mix for your organization.

Consider the impact of contingent staffing on permanent hiring -- Contingent staffing provides a great opportunity to try out people before you hire them permanently. You may want to consider some level of contingent staffing as a recruiting source.

Ask a professional -- it may make sense to bring in a workforce planning expert to help you determine the right staffing strategy, particularly if you don't have many in-house HR resources or if you find there a great number of variables to consider in your planning process.

Employers have numerous options when it comes to contingent staffing and how to fit those options into their workforces. With smart utilization of contingent staffing, employers can better meet their product and service demands while mitigating certain financial risks relating to hiring permanent staff.

Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the Treasurer of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at or (617) 250-1000.

Teamwork--Instilling Team Values Throughout the Organization

Posted by Elaine Varelas September 5, 2011 08:00 AM

This has been a stellar year for Boston sports teams. The Bruins won the Stanley Cup, the Celtics advanced to the playoffs, and the Red Sox are gearing up for another World Series win (Go Sox!).

These outstanding performances all have one thing in common: they demonstrate the importance of teamwork. How well a team functions together can make or break a game, a series, or a season. The same is true for business. Successful teams can bring on increased productivity, morale, market share and growth. Conversely, dysfunctional teams can be a drag on organizations.

Much has been written about executive coaching and development. Yet, you can only reap finite benefits from pouring resources into one person. One superstar can’t carry the team (as Boston fans have seen throughout our traditionally heartbreaking history). As every sports fan knows, it takes a team working together toward a common goal to bring an organization’s prosperity to a new level.

In Patrick Lencioni’s bestselling business book, “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team,” he describes the top reasons many teams fail, and provides practical advice for teams to overcome these pitfalls and work more cohesively. He identifies the five dysfunctions as: absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability and inattention to results. By addressing these dysfunctions, he says, teams can “trust one another, engage in unfiltered conflict around ideas, commit to decisions and plans of action, hold one another accountable for delivering against those plans, and focus on the achievement of collective results.”

Lencioni’s book is presented as a business “fable” that illustrates how these five dysfunctions can debilitate a leadership team. Of course, the executive team is a vital part of any organization’s success, but HR managers would be remiss if they only looked at team dynamics for their company leaders. HR managers should look throughout the organization to uncover what the author identifies as the five dysfunctions that can undermine a team--from leadership to interns-- and work to promote the development of a more effective leadership team and, at the same time, create a template for creating stronger teams throughout the organization.

The leadership team steers the organization, but all the other teams within the company are the gas in the engine. Achieving a truly high-functioning organization requires improving the team dynamic from top to bottom. What teams can you identify in your company in the C-suite, mid-level and lower-level? It could be R&D, sales, product development, or the call center. Each of these teams plays a role in the success of the business. Once you have identified your teams, look to see where there is opportunity for development. Are there situations where a team may need to build trust, resolve conflict, recommit, or embrace accountability? Would the exercises and advice presented by Lencioni help to improve the dynamics and functionality of the team? These issue can be identified with some simple assessment work and can be addressed with the guidelines put forth in the book.

HR managers can also start approaching all HR functions and roles in terms of teams. Most often, issues that are brought to HR are presented as interpersonal. An employee complains about a “bad” manager, or a manager has a problem with a specific employee. Yet, when there is a problem with one person in a group, it can often indicate a larger issue with the team. HR managers should take a step back and instead of focusing on the “problem person,” look at the dynamics at play. Work on team-building to address the bigger issues that may be nagging the group.

Another area where it may be beneficial to look at teams is process measurement. HR managers often look at process in terms of individual people, but it may make more sense to measure process and institute process improvement techniques for teams.

Instead of calling out and rewarding individual contributors, reward teams for good work. Rewarding teams can also encourage people to support each other so that the whole teams succeeds, instead of individual contributors.

HR managers can take a cue from the success of Boston’s sports teams this year to examine the team dynamics within their organizations. They can call on the advice of Patrick Lencioni’s book to help improve the functions of teams in the company. The leadership team is an important team to scrutinize, but HR managers should also look at the dynamics of teams throughout the organization. Even a glitch in the team cohesiveness in the mail room can be disruptive to the entire organization. By examining problems from a team point of view, HR managers can help identify and address weakness in the team dynamic and help their organizations achieve high-functioning work groups throughout the company.

Recruiting: Knowing your sources

Posted by Aaron Green August 15, 2011 08:24 AM

Knowing what sources bring prospects to your organization is quite important to companies with ongoing hiring needs. If you know what is working, you can direct more resources toward these successful sources and/or save money by reducing expenditures on low-yielding sources.

Unfortunately Source of Hire Data is Typically Wrong

Most HR professionals I speak with feel their source of hire data is inaccurate and they want to know how to improve their system to capture the correct information. In getting to the solution, we first need to understand why the data is wrong; some of the typical reasons include:

  • Recruiter apathy -Not all recruiters value the source of hire information, therefore coding applicants accurately is just not important to them. For instance: maybe coding activity is done inconsistently, maybe it is not done at all, maybe the first drop-down selection for source of hire is picked.
  • Incentives/conflict of interest - If management values a particular source over another, recruiters may provide biased responses. Some recruiters even think the information will be used against them, or to make them seem less necessary.
  • Inconsistent system - If the way the question is posed to candidates is inconsistent, the results will be less reliable. Who is asked (recruiter vs. applicant) and when it is asked matters.
  • Applicant bias - Applicants may tell you the answer they think best positions themself to get the job. If you record the response at the wrong time you run this risk. For instance, the applicant that has been desperately calling for weeks and applying to multiple corporate website postings might think they have a better chance of landing the job if they say a recruiter called them.

An Easy and Effective Solution = Ask the New Employee Post-Hire

New employees will respond more thoroughly to questions because they often want to help their new employer. Furthermore you are getting the information straight from the source without any recruiter bias or apathy.

I would suggest asking the new employee during onboarding. First explain why you want the information to get maximum cooperation. I recommend not limiting possible responses to just one answer. Instead, provide choices of multiple factors based on responses from past hires and also leave a blank field. If the new hire does have multiple responses, ask for the responses to be ranked.

Two questions on source are necessary:
1. What source originally made you aware of our company?
2. What source made you aware that we had a current opening in your field? Or, if you were not aware of an opening, what source made you think to contact us? Or if we contacted you, what was the source of contact?

Lastly, don't forget to ask for referrals. The best time to ask is when a new hire starts employment. Correction, the best time to ask is anytime, but it is really effective to ask new hires.

Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at or (617) 250-1000.

Your Burning Questions: The Hire Authority’s Q&A Part Two

Posted by Elaine Varelas August 1, 2011 09:00 AM

Due to the overwhelming response to our first reader Q&A at The Hire Authority, we’ve added another installment. Here are answers to more of our readers’ questions:

Q. My CEO has banned the use of social media sites in the office, but I think there is some business value to using them (especially for recruiting, hiring, and networking). How can I change his mind?

It sounds like your CEO doesn’t understand social media, and may be misled by the word “social,” thinking it is solely a tool for searching for old flames or following a favorite rock band. Social media is here to stay, and banning the use of these sites is akin to forbidding email use. You know that social media is an invaluable business tool, and many organizational leaders agree, as companies continue to incorporate social media strategies into their sales, marketing, branding, and recruitment programs.

You need to present a compelling case that will educate your CEO about the benefits of social media and assuage any fears he may have about the technology.

Do your research. Most CEOs respond well to numbers. Present statistics showing possible revenue growth, market share, and potential customers. You also want to include case studies of companies with similar products or services and show how social media helped them grow their business.

You will also want to develop a social media policy for your organization. How will it be used? By whom? When? How will you measure success? The more concrete examples you can give about how you envision the technology benefiting your organization’s business efforts, the more willing he will be to move forward.

Your CEO is probably thinking of the pitfalls of allowing social media use in your office (loss of productivity, liability). Address those concerns so you can move him away from fear to excitement.

Q. My company used to have a big employee appreciation party but the event was scrapped a few years ago when the economy tanked. I'd like to resurrect the event on a smaller scale. Do you have any suggestions?

Employee appreciation programs are closely tied to morale and productivity. They become more important during tough times, and unfortunately that’s when many organizations cut them. Kudos to you for resurrecting your company event.

You need to make sure that it is meaningful to employees, not just the company or CEO. If budget is an issue, it can be casual and low-key. You could have a BBQ, a softball game, hit the beach, or give back by hosting a community service day. You could check out some of area’s history by walking the Freedom Trail or checking out Plymouth Plantation. You could also give employees extra vacation days as a reward.

If you have a budget, think exclusive--do something that not everyone has access to. You could get tickets to a game, have a private tour of Fenway, or host an event at a museum or gallery after hours.

Exclusivity is also important for individual rewards. Gift certificates to hot restaurants, hotel stays, or retail stores likeTiffany are special and probably something employees wouldn’t do for themselves.

You can also ask employees what they want, either though an informal survey or by convening a committee to plan the event. Whatever you do, don’t make it a potluck or mandatory event! That can suck the fun out of the reward.

You can’t make everyone happy, but if you offer a range of activities and gifts, your employees will get the message that you value the work they do.

Q. Our company’s CEO is great in many ways, but there are a few areas that could use some tweaking. I know she could benefit from some targeted coaching, but I don’t know how to approach her about her “shortcomings” (as the VP of HR, it really is my place). I don’t want to come off as criticizing or jeopardize my job, but I know she could be a great leader with just a little help. What should I do?

The old-fashioned school of development focused on targeting people’s weaknesses and trying to build them up to an acceptable level. Today, effective coaching and development looks at leaders strengths--especially those that are underutilized--and builds upon those. You really don’t have to address your CEO’s “shortcomings” because the coaching should focus on what she does best and help her do it better. This isn’t just a matter of semantics (say you’re building on strengths when you’re really addressing weaknesses).

Be bold. Discuss what coaching can do across the leadership team, and encourage her to lead the way and develop her strengths. All of us are better at certain things and it makes sense to improve on those skills than try to “fix” something else.

This may require redefining your CEO’s job description or delegating some of her less important tasks. For instance, if she is a great small group communicator, but panics speaking to large groups, assign a VP to be a spokesperson. If she is unorganized, find her an assistant with great organizational skills. I’m sure your CEO will be okay with giving up some of her less favorite tasks.

Internally Mobile Workforces

Posted by Aaron Green July 21, 2011 01:00 PM

Giving employees opportunities to advance their career by moving up or even moving laterally to other jobs in an organization is a good way to maintain employee engagement and retention.

Now is the time

As this recent Boston Globe article points out, nearly two-thirds of workers want to leave their current position. About the same numbers of employers say they'll be hiring this year, according to a quarterly survey of HR professionals conducted by my firm, Professional Staffing Group.

Internal mobility can be a win-win for employers and employees. It gives employees relief from a job they may have grown tired of without forcing them to give up the security of their current workplace. It gives employers a way to place experienced workers, who are already accustomed to the company and may have a shorter learning curve, without the expense of recruiting and training new external workers.

Most Companies Don't Handle Mobility Well

Many organizations do not handle internal mobility well and therefore pay the price in terms of employee turnover. Such organizations cling to the hope that the employee will be satisfied in his or her current job or they let company politics come in to play and allow managers to block transfers.

Best Practice Recommendations

Have realistic expectations - It is important not to hold internal job candidates to unreasonable standards, expecting them to be the perfect fit. Companies risk doing damage to their culture when they reject an internal candidate then turn around and hire someone from the outside who is not any more qualified for the job. Sometimes knowing too much about internal candidates can get in the way; you know more about internal candidate's flaws as compared to external candidates who don't try to show you their shortcomings in the interview process. Unless the flaws are critical and impact the employee's ability to do the new job, don't let minor shortcomings stop you from making the transfer.

Ensure company culture and senior management support the initiative - Senior management's visible support is necessary to develop and maintain a culture that allows for and even encourages internal mobility. Without high level senior management commitment to mobility, internal politics can take over and managers can block transfers or even discussions of transfers. Senior management should reinforce the long term benefits (retention and job satisfaction) of maintaining a culture that encourages internal mobility.

Make it easy - Most barriers that companies construct around internal hiring are well-intentioned; they are designed to prevent inter-departmental poaching and to promote transparency. But they can also make it restrictive for employees to take advantage of internal mobility and in some cases make it seem easier to look for a job outside the organization. Employers can make internal mobility as easy as possible by eliminating the need for applications, or for updated resumes, or permission from managers when applying to internal job postings. 

Market your internal mobility policy -Management should consistently support and promote internal mobility at meetings, through email communications, signage in common areas and any other internal communication opportunities.

Pay internal candidates the same as you would pay an external candidate - Compensation should be in-line with what you would expect to offer an external candidate with similar qualifications. In other words, don't lower the compensation just because your internal transferee is currently making less money; such actions serve to motivate employee to look for external opportunities.

Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at or (617) 250-1000.

Don't Trash My Cubible, Please! The Do's and Don'ts of Sharing Workspace!

Posted by Elaine Varelas July 6, 2011 10:00 AM

Q. One of my colleagues tosses her trash into my wastebasket (near the opening to my cubicle) as she walks by every day. She doesn't even break stride, she just tosses as she passes by. What's wrong with her basket in her cube (6 feet away) is a mystery. This behavior is odd but hardly actionable... until this morning. I find her most recent toss missed, and her soiled paper towel is *next to* my wastebasket. I placed the item in the basket and then used some hand sanitizer. How am I supposed to respond? I am not going to literally clean up after her again.

A. Open work areas can pose some challenges, and people with a lack of awareness of other people, or boundaries often need the obvious pointed out to them. An easy answer might be to move your wastebasket away from the opening to your cube. I know it is aggravating to change your preferred location, and the cleaning people might not appreciate the loss of access, but it may lead to a great way to begin a conversation that will eliminate communal trash.

As she proceeds to stride by, and begin her toss, we will hope she notices the basket is not there. She may ask where it is, and you can say “I moved it so people don't use it, as they miss and I don't want to pick up other people's trash. And I don't want someone's smelly lunch in there either, so I am helping you, and other people break the habit of using my basket.”

The work environment is full of petty annoyances. If you can ignore them, please do. If not, the sooner you put an end to them, even if people wonder why you care whose trash goes into your bin, the better. A light hearted comment about her being one of the many basketball players looking at lock out might be appropriate, as her aim is clearly missing.

People in cubicles and more open work areas need to be VERY considerate about a host of behaviors including voice volume and nose blowing and TOTALLY considerate about not participating in other behaviors including grooming (NO nail clipping!) and other bodily functions. All these issues should not need human resources policies, but do need a considerate and assertive workforce.

Five Trends Impacting Employees Today: What Every HR Manager Should Know

Posted by Elaine Varelas July 4, 2011 10:00 AM

Whether you’re a seasoned HR veteran or a newbie, you’ve probably noticed some of the ways you used to do things have changed. Technology, new products, expanding global markets, and the economy all influence how we work, and many organizations strive to be early adopters of innovation to remain competitive. For HR managers, it is equally important to examine the ramifications of significant shifts in the workplace. How does this often lightning-fast change affect employees? Here are five HR trends that have emerged over the past few years, and ways HR managers can help employees better adapt:

1. Metrics for Measurement
Employees have always been evaluated on job performance. Organizations have used employee and peer reviews and customer surveys to gauge performance. Recently, many organization have implemented a metrics-based system to measure performance, utilizing numbers and data to hold employees accountable for activity and results. Metrics measurement is a useful tool for leadership teams looking to eliminate waste or duplication, and to make the organization streamlined, more accountable and profitable.

While this numbers-based system can be beneficial to the organization, it can make employees feel like they are being targeted or micromanaged. HR managers can help alleviate some of the stress by making sure that employees understand the process. Communication is the key. Employees need to know that the organization is not looking to target specific people, but to help the organization become more efficient and effective. Make sure that expectations and goals are clearly explained, and give employees a chance to share feedback.

2. Technology for Transactional HR Functions
There was a time when benefits changes, vacation requests and approvals, and payroll functions were conducted one-on-one between HR managers and employees. Now, these common transactions are often completed online. Converting these transactions to a technology base has eliminated many of the repetitive tasks for HR managers. While it is a positive innovation and a welcome change for many, it can depersonalize the HR process (instead of having a conversation with a person, employees are sending requests through cyberspace). HR managers can make sure that employees still feel connected in other ways by remaining accessible to employees for answering questions or addressing concerns. They should also work to establish and maintain relationships in other ways as their day-to-day contact subsides.

3. Vanishing Support StaffMost employees today are on their own to create a document, make a phone call or unstick a paper jam. There is an increasing need for self-sufficiency among workers because there is little or no dedicated administration or IT support staff. Gone are the days of dictating a memo or asking an assistant to place a call. Employees are expected to know how to use the technology they need to do their jobs. HR managers can help employees by offering training programs or refresher courses in new software or systems (Excel, email etiquette, social media 101) so employees master the skills they need to do their jobs efficiently.

4. Shrinking Office Space
Rising real estate costs, the proliferation of technology, and employees’ fluctuating work schedules have contributed to companies downsizing their office space. Organizations can also save on square footage and cost because equipment is shrinking and files can be stored digitally. Instead of file cabinets and bulky desktops cluttering office space, employees can keep all of their work on laptops and take it home. This makes travel and telecommuting easier to do. One change this presents for employees is that their office space is often shared. HR managers can help employees make a seamless transition from home to work by making sure that office space remains neutral. It isn’t comfortable for any of us to work surrounded by pictures of other people’s kids and pets. Employees should know to leave the space clean and ready for the next person. It is also important to make sure that the items employees need are ready each time they come in, including power cords, cables, printers, and other office supplies. Following these steps can eliminate frustration and increase productivity because employees can get right to work instead of wasting precious office time searching for a stapler.

5. The 24/7 Employee
Just because employees can be reached by phone, text, or email 24 hours a day, seven days a week, doesn’t mean they should be. What are the cultural expectations at the organization? What is the expected return time for emails or phone calls during office hours and after hours? HR managers should work with the leadership team to develop company-wide parameters and then encourage managers to discuss expectations with employees. This task can be daunting for global companies that may require employees to participate in calls or projects after regular business hours. If the requests are reasonable and agreed-upon by all parties, it can alleviate employees feeling as if they are always on-call.

Much has changed in the business world over the past decade. While many of these changes are positive, some can leave employees feeling disconnected from their colleagues and the organization. HR managers can help ease employees into these trends by establishing boundaries, eliminating the hassle, and opening lines of communication.

Charitable Giving at Work

Posted by Aaron Green July 1, 2011 09:44 AM

Epic flooding, wildfires, hurricanes, tsunamis, wars, a nuclear meltdown. Combined with ongoing need and the increased demands felt during our economy's last recession, it seems there have never been more opportunities to support those in need. Because there is power in numbers, workplace philanthropy is an effective way to support others in need.

According to a study commissioned by the United Way Worldwide, just over one-third of full-time employees work at a company offering some type of workplace giving campaign. Almost one-quarter of employees with a workplace campaign were asked to give to more than one cause during the year and 54 percent of those asked to give to a workplace campaign donated. 

Workplace giving campaigns offer benefits to the office as well:

  • Workplace giving campaigns can improve employee engagement by instilling a sense of pride toward their employer, a sense of accomplishment for making a difference, and a greater connection to co-workers
  • Studies also show that if employees are philanthropic through their work, they are more likely to recommend their employer
  • The newest generation of workers takes a company's charitable efforts very seriously. According to a USA Today article, 61 percent of people aged 13-25 feel personally responsible for making a difference in the world. Additionally, 69 percent consider a company's social and environmental commitment when deciding where to shop, and 83 percent will trust a company more if it is socially/environmentally responsible. Most importantly, 79% said they want to work for a company that cares about how it affects or contributes to society.
  • Giving campaigns can be part of branding and marketing efforts if the campaign is linked to the company's mission or industry, e.g. a building supply company that donates to construction repair efforts

However, workplace giving campaigns can backfire if employees feel pressure to participate or feel that the effort is not a company-wide one, i.e. senior management does not participate. Asking employees to give above and beyond their job responsibilities can be a delicate task and should be handled sensitively. It's also important to establish a company-wide policy -- how extensive and formal the policy is depends on the organization.

When determining how to set up a workplace giving campaign or set policy, here are a few recommendations:

  • Look for innovative giving campaigns that can advance your company's broader corporate responsibility goals and strategies. Seek philanthropic partners who understand and work with the company's commitment to support brand strategy while providing value to employees and consumers beyond the dollars they raise. 
  • Utilize technology to reduce the resources and time needed to run a campaign while expanding the options for sharing campaign information.
  • Support causes that resonate with your employees; they'll be more enthusiastic if they're working for a cause they believe in or have a hand in choosing to support
  • Have senior leadership set the tone and demonstrate involvement
  • Understand that workplace giving is a long-term commitment. If a giving campaign isn't successful or doesn't seem to resonate with employees, shift tactics and learn from the experience to establish a new campaign that is successful.

Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at or (617) 250-1000.

Relaunch Your Career

Posted by Elaine Varelas June 6, 2011 08:30 AM

By Elaine Varelas

This particular winter seemed longer, colder, and more arduous than years past. I’ve never been more excited to see green sprouting from the icy patches on the ground, the first colorful blooms, or even the bits of pollen flying on the wind (allergies be darned). The slow climb from harsh winter to promising spring is analogous to the recent recession and the subsequent slow climb out of it. The economy was hard hit, but we’re finally seeing the first signs of growth and prosperity. Just as this winter may have killed your lawn or damaged your shrubs, the recession did a number on morale for HR managers. It was a particularly tough time to be in human resources. It’s a great time to harness the hope of springtime and make a renewed commitment to your job. Here are some ways to recharge your career:

Tackle that problem you’ve been avoiding
You can probably think of a nagging issue at work that, for some reason, you avoid solving. Maybe it seems too overwhelming, annoying, or even insurmountable. Yet, even though you don’t deal with it head-on, it is always there taunting you and can even rob you of a good night’s sleep. It is time to deal with the issue and be free of it! It could be something acute like a communication breakdown between a manager and the leadership team or something small, like chronic paper jams in the printer. It may even be a company-wide initiative, such as going paperless or starting a wellness program, that you know you should institute.

Whatever your niggling issue, you’ve no doubt tried to address it before without success. You need a fresh approach to an old problem. Is there another way of looking at the issue? Maybe you need to step back and look at the big picture. Conversely, maybe the problem requires focusing on one component at a time, or taking it apart piece by piece. It might be time to ask for help. A fresh set of eyes can bring a new perspective to the issue. You may also want to consider developing a task force to join you.

If you don’t turn over the soil in your garden periodically, you deplete it of nutrients and it ceases to nourish the plants. Likewise, using the same tired approach to problems can deplete your effectiveness. Once it is solved, you’ll feel sweet relief! You will also build your confidence as you conquer the once insurmountable.

Rethink development
The traditional method of development--identifying weaknesses and trying to remedy them--is so yesterday. Development has been proven to work best when you focus on the positives. Delegate your deficiencies (you don’t need to excel at Excel to be a better HR manager anyway) and concentrate on your strengths. What are you good at? Identify those areas where you shine and work to improve those skills by 10%.

Board service is another great way to work on your development. There are countless non-profit organizations that need people with HR talent on their boards of directors. Give back to your community or a pet charity by lending your expertise. You’ll be able to showcase your talents in a new way while you learn about how another organization does business.

Go exploring
There are some departments and areas of your organization that you know very well, and others with which you probably aren’t as familiar. It is time to go exploring. Who do you touch too much, not enough, and where else do you need to be in the organization? It may be time to make yourself uncomfortable. Is there a manager or VP you avoid? Make it your mission to become indispensable to her. Insinuate yourself in a new area. Pick a new department every week or month to investigate. What can you learn from team members in an unfamiliar department? Have conversations with employees to see how you can satisfy their needs better going forward.

Stop reacting
So much of our jobs as HR managers is reactionary. We step in during times of crises to fix problems, hire people, and fill in gaps when someone leaves. We have lay-offs as a result of the economy. We rush to hire when a department head leaves unexpectedly. We develop policies because of federal mandates. Wouldn’t it be a relief to get in front of the issues at work? It may be time to put on your forecasting hat. While meteorologists are often criticized for not predicting the exact weather, they are right a majority of the time. They can surmise what the weather will be based on research and trends. HR managers can use some of the same techniques. By exploring and having conversations with employees, can you anticipate what your organization’s needs will be? What will arise for hiring? Who will be retiring? What skill sets and technical expertise do you anticipate your organization will require in the coming months or years?

Spring is a time of growth and revival, which creates a perfect opportunity to recharge our careers. With these techniques, you can bring some freshness, renewed challenge, and excitement to your job--just what we all need after a long cold winter (and recession).

Elaine Varelas is a Managing Partner at Keystone Partners, a Boston-based career managment firm. She can be reached at

Job Outlook for 2011 College Grads

Posted by Aaron Green May 23, 2011 04:01 PM

Prospects for this year's college graduates are better than they have been in the previous two years. The Massachusetts economy continues to grow: the state unemployment rate hit a two-year low in April and employers added nearly 20,000 new jobs. Massachusetts' unemployment rate, at 7.8 percent, is well below the national average of 8.8 percent and for job seekers with college degrees it is about half of that. Many of the colleges and universities in Boston celebrated their commencements this month. Here's a look at the job market for this year's college graduates:

The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) predicts that employers will be hiring 19.3 percent more college graduates this year compared with last year. CareerBuilder also asked employers about their plans to hire college graduates and nearly half (46 percent) of the 2,800 surveyed said they plan to hire recent graduates. 

Twenty-six percent surveyed by CareerBuilder said they plan to offer higher starting salaries than they did in 2010. Salaries are up from the previous year for the first time since 2008, with an average starting offer of just over $50K. Engineering and computer science jobs are among the highest paying jobs for new graduates.  

The Class of 2011
The U.S. Department of Education projects 1.7 million students will graduate with bachelor's degrees in this 2010-2011 winter-spring graduation cycle. Females outnumber males with the Department of Education reporting 140 females to every 100 males in the Class of 2011 (58 percent of college graduates are female, with 42 percent male). This class is the most indebted in history with an average personal debt of $23K after graduation. 

In general, the Class of 2011 is a wary bunch used to seeing their classmates leave campus without a job to move back home with parents and put other adult milestones - like buying a home - on hold.  

Many will have held at least one or two internships during their college years, which is a good idea career-wise as forty percent of entry-level jobs are being filled by former interns.

If you're among the 46 percent of employers who will be hiring recent college graduates this year, it's important to keep in mind that these candidates don't have the same resumes or interviewing skills as more experienced job seekers. I recommend these six essential questions for interviewing recent college graduates.

Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at or (617) 250-1000.

Your Burning Questions: The Hire Authority’s Q&A with Readers

Posted by Elaine Varelas May 2, 2011 08:00 AM

Here at The Hire Authority, we occasionally receive questions from our readers. This column is dedicated to answering some of your most frequently asked questions:

Q. My workplace is not very diverse, but we do enjoy a collegial and supportive culture. Most of us are white, middle-class parents who live in the suburbs (even our single assistants are white and middle-class). We are set to do some hiring and I’d like to look for people to make the workplace more diverse, but the leadership is questioning me. They aren’t resistant, they are just curious about how diversity will improve our workplace. Why is diversity important and where do I start?

Kudos to you for pushing for diversity. Research shows that diversity in the workplace is not just a “feel good” strategy, it can be linked to increased employee retention, productivity, and can impact the bottom line. Ideally, a diverse workforce will be made up of people from diverse lifestyles, different cultures, religions, ages, and races. We all bring our background and life experiences to work with us everyday. By diversifying your employee base, you are inviting different perspectives and experiences to work. This leads to more creative approaches to solving problems, helps to foster new ideas. As our world becomes more diverse, your organization will also be better equipped to respond to your customers’ and clients’ varied needs, and even expand your products or services.

The key to creating diversity in your hiring is to grow your network. If your contacts are made of up white, middle-class suburban parents, you may have trouble finding a person of color, someone non-US born, a gay woman, or a multilingual college grad. Expand your network by reaching out to those groups and organizations whose membership you wish to recruit.

It also helps to have a diversity “champion” on the leadership team to make sure that the process is not just about hiring the “token” anyone to a management level, but to make diversity part of the business strategy and the company’s culture.

Q. My boss seems to be suffering from burn out. He’s apathetic at best and hostile towards me and my team at other times. What can I do besides looking for another job?

Your question brings to mind lyrics from an old blues song: “Before you accuse me, take a look at yourself.” Are you sure this isn’t really about you? I sense that you may be projecting because you’re unhappy in your own job. Instead of leaving or lashing out (and creating a more hostile environment) take some responsibility. What can you do differently? The first step should be to have a candid conversation with your boss. Remind him that you are on his side and that you are concerned about him. Ask what you can do to help make things easier for him and offer your support. You may realize after you have this conversation that this unease you are feeling at work really is more about you. That is okay too. Maybe you need to look for ways to revamp your own job. You may also want to check out next month’s column, “Relaunching Your Career,” for some creative ideas for reinvigorating your job.

I haven’t had any training in years, mostly because of budget cuts at the company and it didn’t feel right to work on my professional development when so many people at the organization were losing their jobs. I know I could be a better HR manager with some training and development. How can I get my boss to support me when cash flow is still tight?

Desperate times call for creative training. While it may sound appealing to jet away to a tropical location for a few days of R&T (relaxation and training), effective training can happen closer to home and less expensively. Look within your company walls. Where internally can you develop skills? Could the IT department assist you in learning a new software package? What could you learn from the sales or marketing team? Is there a stretch assignment that would challenge you?

Local professional associations also offer low-cost training options. For instance, HR trade groups often have seminars where you can brush up on your skills. You may also want to look at some vertical industry associations. Do the groups to which your clients and vendors belong offer any programs that might interest you? Many trade groups also offer webinars and online training.

The most important part of this process is for you to document how your training is helping you do your job better. If you can demonstrate the value to your boss, he or she will be more willing to support it in the future.

Responding to Rejected Candidates

Posted by Aaron Green April 28, 2011 10:29 AM

Right now human resources professionals are inundated with candidates they can't hire. While this situation is not new, the volume is increased and candidates seem to be more sensitive to how they are treated. Last month, the Boston Globe ran an interesting article on candidates' reactions to the manner by which they are rejected. The challenge for many HR professionals is simply responding to all rejected candidates.

Why don't applicants get a response?

There are a number of factors that have made it difficult to respond to all applicants:

  • Technology enables an overwhelming amount of employment inquiries. Email and online submission processes make it easy for job seekers to quickly apply for numerous open positions. On the other hand, employers need time to evaluate and screen each of those submissions. 
  • The down economy and higher rate of unemployment means more candidates are applying for positions.
  • HR departments are stretched thin. Many organizations cut back on HR resources to weather the recent recession and are ill-equipped to handle the current workload.
  • Intercompany communication can lag. Sometimes an HR manager doesn't know what to tell the candidate because they have not heard back from key participants in the hiring process.

Return on investment: why it is worth the effort to create a process and culture that ensure all candidates receive a response

Availability for future positions: The candidate you reject today might be perfect for a future opening; treat candidates well today and keep them interested in your organization.

Referrals: While the candidate might not be right for your company, if you treat them well they still might refer other people.

Candidate gains new skills: The candidate you reject today might go on to gain new skills and be desirable to you down the road.

Public relations: Being unresponsive to candidate can really generate intense bad feelings which can hurt your employment brand as well as your overall brand.

What should employers do?

Employers should develop a process that ensures all candidates that apply to your company get a response. The process may define who responds and how they respond depending on how deeply the applicant went in the interview process. For instance, if the applicant went on three rounds of interviews, you may want a senior person to have a live phone conversation with them explaining why they were not selected. On the other hand, it might be acceptable to send a standard email to an unqualified applicant who applied online to a job board posting.

In addition, employers need to create and maintain the proper culture which values treating candidates with respect and adhering to the process.

While responding to rejected candidates can be time consuming, in the long run I believe it is time well spent.

Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at or (617) 250-1000.

Hitting the Reset Button: Dealing With a New Business Reality

Posted by Elaine Varelas April 4, 2011 08:00 AM

By Elaine Varelas

The first day of spring emerged last week amid snow flakes and numbing temperatures. But those few mild days we have this time of year remind us that warm weather is right around the corner, even if we have to trudge through sleet and freezing rain to get there. Our climb out of the recent recession is taking a similar path. There are signs within many organizations that the economy is starting to thaw and that growth is imminent. We’re over the recession hump, but here’s where the analogy with the weather stops. Most likely we’ll be in early spring mode for months. In fact, some things about the way we do business will be forever changed because of the economic downturn. If your organization is waiting for the big rebound, stop. It’s fruitless to wait for things to “get back to the way they were,” because they won’t. We’ve hit the virtual reset button on the economy and this is the new business reality. If we keep waiting, we’ll be missing out.

Many organizations (HR managers are guilty too) are notorious for reacting to immediate situations. We see an urgent threat or opportunity and we pounce. Instead of always reacting to situations, we should be planning and preparing. This is an opportune time to take a step back and refocus. If there won’t be any momentous occasion for the market to bounce back, HR managers should be looking at their strategy now. Here are some areas that may be forever altered by the recession. Going forward, how will these shape your HR initiatives?

Shifting landscape
The recession has most likely reset some things in your organization. Take a fresh look at your company on the other side of the downturn. What impact did it have on the organization? Is your mission still accurate? Has your business changed? If so, by how many degrees? Do your people have the skills the company needs now? If not, you may need to look at training and development. It also might be time to change your hiring criteria. What should employees look like today, next year, and five years from now?

Evolving mix of employees
Employees are opting out of early retirement--and it isn’t just because of the recession. Not too long ago, it was a given that a certain percentage of people (around 10%) would choose to retire early when they hit their late 50s or early 60s. This isn’t happening as much anymore. While the economy plays a part in this trend, it has more to do with people’s lifestyles. Many people are getting married or having children later so their kids are still in elementary school when they hit their 50s. Others are taking care of children as well as their parents and can’t afford to stop working. How does this trend affect the culture? Is there a lack of “new blood” in the organization? How can you foster fresh ideas and progress with less turnover? Programs to help employees brainstorm new ideas and the creation of cross-departmental teams can help invigorate employees and foster innovative thinking. Also, it may be time to redefine retirement. What does full-time mean? Can retirement-eligible people work part-time or as consultants if they choose? Are sabbaticals encouraged? This is a great way to increase knowledge and give employees more freedom. Can the organization accommodate new ways of working?

Transfer of knowledge needs to be deliberate
The transfer of knowledge from leaders to managers to employees used to happen on an informal basis. It would trickle down from the top and across departments. Teaching employees about jobs other than their own was done by a manager or mentor. Often, organizations would have employees overlap responsibilities to account for promotions and turnover. Today, organizations are becoming so skinny that there is no overlap. Many employees are becoming individual contributors instead of members of a team that share what they know. In addition, as companies become global and more people telecommute, there is less face-time among employees. Without a deliberate plan for capturing knowledge, it can be lost. Mentor programs are a great way to transfer knowledge within the organization. Many companies have also turned to video to record specific technical, cultural, or even anecdotal information.

Employee pool is more diverse
There are more different kinds of people in the workplace than ever before; a vast range of ages, races, and cultures make up today’s workforce. Because of the recession, a new type of worker is making a mark (and growing in numbers) in organizations across the country--the temporary contract worker. Organizations that are skittish about bringing on full-time, permanent employees in a faltering economy are turning to temporary and contract workers and consultants to fill positions. Increasingly, these temporary positions are on the leadership team. This can have a far-reaching affect on the culture if temporary employees aren’t invested in the organization. But it doesn’t always have to be a negative experience. Short-term employees can bring insight, new ideas, and fresh approaches to work. HR managers can encourage the positives in these situations--and mitigate the risks--by making culture part of the hiring criteria.

The virtual reset button has been hit, and as a result, many of the traditional ways of doing business are changing. HR managers can’t put off investing in new initiatives until they receive a more significant sign that the economy is improving. Instead of waiting for the marketplace to get better and then reacting to any opportunities, now is the time to make conscious decisions about HR strategy and put a plan in place for the current economy.

Elaine Varelas is Managing Partner of Keystone Partners, a career management company based in Boston. She can be reached at

Incivility in the Workplace

Posted by Aaron Green March 21, 2011 01:55 PM

Are we becoming a nation of uncivil servants? The January shooting of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords prompted numerous politicians and media to illustrate how uncivil and hot-headed our nation has become. There were subsequent calls for "civil discourse" and our government attempted to lead by example by pairing Republicans and Democrats as seat-mates for the President's State of the Union address. It's easy to see how our hurried, stressed and litigation-prone society can be less fun to be around and some have noticed that attitude carrying over to the workplace. Uncivil behavior in the workplace is unpleasant and costly, but can be prevented.

What is incivility in the workplace?
According to Wikipedia, workplace incivility has been defined as: "low-intensity deviant behavior with ambiguous intent to harm the target... Uncivil behaviors are characteristically rude and discourteous, displaying a lack of regard for others."

Examples of uncivil behavior at work can range from:

  • losing one's temper or yelling at someone in public
  • rude or obnoxious behavior in the workplace
  • badgering or back-stabbing in the workplace
  • withholding important customer/client information
  • sabotaging a project or damaging someone's reputation

To more subtle acts, such as:

  • arriving late to a meeting
  • checking e-mail or texting during a meeting
  • not answering calls or responding to emails in a timely manner
  • ignoring or interrupting a colleague in the workplace
  • not saying "please" or "thank you" when customary

In the book The Cost of Bad Behavior: How Incivility is Damaging Your Business and What to Do About It, authors Christine Pearson and Christine Porath interviewed workers at 800 employers, and found:

  • 96 percent have experienced incivility at work
  • 98 percent of employees claim they were treated uncivilly at work at least once a week
  • 10 percent said they witnessed incivility every day
  • 94 percent of workers who are treated uncivilly say they get even with their offenders

How did we get here?
It's not hard to find examples of stress and hardship that could make people less civil: the tough economy, less than ideal employment situations, even the effect technology has on speeding up our communications and decision making, and lengthening our work hours by increasing our accessibility.

Some workplace observers even blame the slip in civility on the shift toward casual dressing, which causes more casual behavior and communication, in turn lowering standards of behavior. While casual dressing may or may not be a cause for incivility, it's an example of the many workplace practices that have changed in our culture. When evaluating causes of incivility, employers should consider all the changes in their environments including the increased use of technology, teams that are more widely distributed geographically, and the increase in diverse workforces, to name just a few.

Workforce Management featured a January 2011 article, The Degeneration of Decorum, which reported that: "Incivility tends to rear its ugly head in organizations that have distinct pecking orders, where people are separated by rank...some experts say the worst fields for incivility are education and health care, where the abuse comes from the top and leads all the way down to the school playground or the operating room."

The cost of uncivil behavior in the workplace
An uncivil workplace is an undesirable place to work or do business with. Incivility has wide-reaching impact on efficiency, effectiveness and job satisfaction in the workplace. Where uncivil behavior is found, it's common to find poor communication and ineffective use of meetings, lower standards for customer service, decreased workplace productivity and lower rates for employee recruiting and retention.

As reported by Workforce Management: "In polling thousands of managers and employees about the effects of incivility, Pearson and Porath found that after being the victim of on-the-job rudeness and hostility, two-thirds of employees said their performance declined. Four out of five said they lost work time worrying about the unpleasant incident, while 63 percent wasted time avoiding the offender. More than three-quarters of respondents said that their commitment to their employer had waned, and 12 percent even quit because of bad treatment."

What should employers do?
Employers and organization leaders are responsible for creating a foundation or environment where employees can shine. Office culture is often set from above, meaning that the management team needs to lead by example. Increasing awareness around incivility and its impact is a good place to start and, if necessary, create workplace policies around civil behavior where standards for acceptable behavior are established (just as you might create a policy for the use of social media).

HR managers can ensure that civil language and practices are imbedded into every level of an organization, including job descriptions, hiring practices, training policy and the day-to-day code of conduct. For example, use the hiring processes you've got in place, such as personality tests and reference checks, to look for signs of incivility in a candidate or new hire.

Other tips for fostering civility:

  • Recognize and reward employees who model strong civil habits - or empower employees to recognize their peers
  • Provide training and coaching to help employees identify problems
  • Foster open communication practices such as forums for sharing ideas and input, safe environments for sharing concerns or reporting incidents, and explain the importance of good communication and its impact on organizational success

Reducing incivility not only makes your organization a more enjoyable place to work, but it also has a positive impact on the bottom line through improved employee retention and performance.

Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at or (617) 250-1000.

Avoiding a Social Media Melee--Five Things to Consider When Developing Your Company’s Social Media Strategy

Posted by Elaine Varelas March 7, 2011 08:00 AM

by Elaine Varelas

The use of social media sites has exploded over the past several years. Even if you live in a cave, you can have a LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook account, just as long as you have a smartphone and wifi access. It is easier than ever to connect with hundreds, even thousands, of people in an instant through social media web sites.

At the same time, the line between personal and private time is getting increasingly blurred as more people telecommute, bring their laptops home with them to work after hours, and stay in touch with the office virtually around the clock through technology. By their design, social media sites foster a blend of the professional and the personal. On any given user profile, a person is likely to have contacts ranging from college roommates to current clients and colleagues to old flames.

Given their ambiguous nature, social media sites can create a tricky confluence of factors in the workplace. It can be challenging for HR managers and company leaders to develop a policy that satisfies employees, allows people to access the benefits of the technology, and protects the company from the dark side of these sites. Here are five things HR managers should consider when putting together a social media strategy:

No policy is a risky policy
Some HR managers, so overwhelmed by the complexity of regulating the use of these sites, try to crawl into their proverbial caves and pretend the technology doesn’t exist. Others leave it up to individual managers, and still others believe that employees can police themselves (“We trust our employees to make appropriate choices.”). Unfortunately, not having a policy can expose the organization to an embarrassing incident, bad publicity or even legal action. There are currently several law suits working their way through the courts involving people who have sued their former employers after being terminated because of a post on a social media site. While it is noble to trust employees, some people--especially if they are new to a site--may not know how to use the technology appropriately. All it takes to create a potentially cringeworthy situation is one novice user posting in the wrong place.

Blocking sites may hurt the organization
Other HR managers address the challenge by blocking these sites from the company’s server. Of course, this action comes with it’s own risks. By cutting access to these networking sites, organizations may also be turning away business. Many companies attribute a significant portion of their annual sales to these sites, and some organizations request that their employees maintain Linkedin and Twitter accounts. Blocking these sites can also put your company at a hiring disadvantage as they can be valuable recruiting tools.

A policy should be explicit and specific
It only takes one employee who doesn’t understand the ramifications of using a social networking site incorrectly to put the company at risk. Assume everyone knows nothing when developing your policy. Be specific about the dos and don’ts for employees. Some questions you might want to consider are: Can employees list the company as their workplace? Can they befriend clients and vendors? Can they post about clients, vendors, colleagues or the competition? Give examples of what is okay and what is off-limits. Also let employees know the consequences of inappropriate actions. Having a policy also takes the pressure off employees who may not know what is expected of them when it comes to how they should be using these sites at work.

Define private
Many people are under the impression that what they do (or post) during their personal time with their personal computer remains private. Remind employees that posting on public forums is never private. Cyber-bullying a co-worker or badmouthing a manager, direct report or the organization on the Internet is akin to writing the message in spray paint on the office building and signing your name. Just because the action took place after hours and the person supplied the can of spray paint, it is still an attack on the company. Employees need to know that they will be held accountable for what they post on these sites, and that company representatives will be checking sites periodically.

Give employees the tools to use social media effectively
You wouldn’t put employees on a manufacturing floor without being trained in how to use the heavy machinery. The same philosophy applies to social media sites. Organizations can take advantage of the vast business potential of these sites, but they must give employees the training they need to do it properly.

There is tremendous opportunity for organizations to tap into social media web sites to increase their profits. With new users joining every day, it seems irresponsible for companies not to take advantage of this growing potential pool of customers, clients, and future employees. Yet, these sites can be dangerous because with the click of a mouse, employees can broadcast any message or photo they choose across the Internet. HR managers can help their organizations utilize these sites while mitigating risk by creating a detailed policy for employees to follow and giving them the training they need to use the sites correctly. By giving employees reign to use the sites at work along with education and guidelines, they can post, link and tweet their way through cyberspace while growing the business as well.

Elaine Varelas is Managing Partner at Keystone Partners, a Boston-based career management company. She can be reached at

Massachusetts Independent Contractor Law

Posted by Aaron Green February 14, 2011 09:00 AM

Both the IRS and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts have had a heightened interest in misclassified independent contractors in recent years. The Federal and State governments have recently announced additional funds being allocated to hire more auditors because they anticipate a good return on investment. More auditors = more tax dollars found.

In general, business people tend to be more familiar with the IRS rules regarding independent contractors than with the state rules. The IRS follows a "common law test" for assessing the classification of contract workers, which is meant to reveal how much direction and control the business retains over the worker. The IRS developed a list of twenty factors to be used as an aid to apply the common law test. In addition to the federal test, Massachusetts employers have the state law to consider, which I am focusing this article on because:

Massachusetts law is more stringent than federal law
The Attorney General issued an advisory which stated, "The Massachusetts Independent Contractor Law (MICL) excludes far more workers from independent contractor status than are disqualified under the IRS common law test."

As employers we should be paying closer attention to Independent Contractor law at the state level. Here are the requirements of Massachusetts law and their effect on businesses.

Massachusetts Law requires a three part test
The MICL creates a presumption that an individual performing any service is an employee. To overcome this presumption, the party receiving services must establish:

  1. that the worker is free from its control and direction in performing the service, both under a contract and in fact; and
  2. that the service provided by the worker is outside the employer?s usual course of business; and
  3. that the worker is customarily engaged in an independent trade, occupation, profession or business of the same type.

The law requires that all three parts of the test (sometimes called prongs) must exist in order for an individual to be classified as anything other than an employee. The burden of proof is on the employer, and the inability of an employer to prove any one of the prongs is sufficient to conclude that the individual in question is an employee.

Some examples of how the law will apply
Based on my interactions with businesspeople, prong two seems to be the most problematic and least understood, so I will illustrate the application of the law in this regard: 

Example #1: An accounting firm brings in a painter to repaint their office and classifies as an independent contractor. Assuming this person meets the tests for prongs one and three, the classification is allowed because the work being done is outside the firm's usual course of business.

Example #2: An accounting firm brings in an accountant to assist them during their busy season and classifies as an independent contractor. This would be a violation of prong two because the service provided is not outside the employer's usual course of business.

It is significant to note that the MICL does not take into account where the work is performed as part of this assessment. I took the time to point this out because it is a common misconception that if an independent contractor works outside of the employer's place of business (i.e. from home), that fact satisfies the requirements to be classified as an independent contractor when this is not the case; where the person works is not relevant.

Consequences of misclassification
When employers don't understand the application of the law and misclassify someone as an independent contractor, there can be costly repercussions. Employers can potentially be responsible for FICA and Medicare taxes and can even be responsible for the federal and state taxes that "should have"been withheld from the employee. In addition, they can be responsible for state unemployment taxes, worker' compensation, and overtime if applicable. Penalties can accrue and in certain cases (i.e. overtime) treble damages can be assessed. Even if unintentional, what is often intended as a cost savings strategy can turn into a costly oversight.


While the use of independent contractors is extremely important to many companies, it is an approach fraught with inherent risks. The increased government attention to independent contractors and the large penalties involved take these risks to a dangerous level for Massachusetts businesses. Businesses need to examine their independent contractor relationships to ensure they comply with the rules or alternatively consider taking the appropriate steps to restructure their relationships.

Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group  and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at or (617) 250-1000.

Lessons Learned from Undercover Boss

Posted by Elaine Varelas February 7, 2011 08:00 AM

If you’re a reality TV junkie, you may have seen a show called, Undercover Boss. It is a program where CEOs, owners, or other high-level executives go “undercover” (donning disguises, aliases, and bogus biographies) as entry-level employees at their own organizations. They work alongside multiple employees to see what it is “really” like to work at the company--and for themselves. Along the way, they get into amusing predicaments, unearth some problems within the organization, and get to know some of their employees. Towards the end of each show, the executive’s true identity is revealed, dedicated employees are rewarded, and the CEO works to address the issues and breakdowns within the organization that the other employees helped bring to light.

If you can overlook the happy-ending-in-an-hour format and the requisite reality television manufactured tension and tear-jerker moments, Undercover Boss offers some valuable human resources gems. Here are some lessons HR managers and leadership teams can learn from the show:

Being an effective CEO takes courage--The CEOs on this show are getting some great publicity for their organizations, but they are also exposing themselves and all of their management policies (some of which are inevitably lacking) on television. Yet, CEOs should be brave. Heading up a company is a challenging job that requires risk-taking and unconventional ideas.

Saying “thank you” matters--In every episode, the executive calls special employees to his or her office for a debriefing. At that time, the CEO makes sure to thank employees for their hard work and dedication to the company. This is a highly anticipated part of the show, partly because viewers all over the country are waiting to live vicariously through these employees as the CEO says, “thanks.”

Rewards should be personal--This is also the time when employees are recognized for their work. The CEO always tailors the reward to the individual. The CEO doles out perks based on what employees may need or want to achieve in their careers or personal lives. These rewards may be training and development, help with education costs, financial rewards, a new assignment or promotion, solutions for work/family balance, or vacations.

Small changes can make a big difference--Sometimes the management changes that boost morale and productivity the most on the show aren’t expensive or expansive. In one episode featuring ABM industries, a commercial building maintenance company, one of the housekeepers explained to the CEO that it was difficult to do her job in the company’s uniform, a dress. During the show, her wish to work in a shirt and pants created a new policy for all female employees. She was thrilled by this small--but not insignificant--change.

Every company has room for improvement--During the show, you can see how some programs, products, or policies aren’t working. It is okay to acknowledge that there are problems within an organization. It’s important to address issues and not just ignore them.

Sometimes there’s a breakdown in the management process--Most CEOs on the show are surprised to discover at least one issue on their undercover journey. Leadership teams put policies in place, but they don’t always trickle down to every corner of the organization. Sometimes there is a leak along the management pipes. HR managers need to create opportunities for gathering this important information without putting the CEO in a wig and glasses. There are expensive and in-depth methods for giving employees a voice, such as engagement surveys. There are also less pricey options HR managers can initiate.

If an engagement survey isn’t financially feasible for your company right now, how can you get feedback from employees--either formally or informally--and see where the management process may be breaking down?

• Let managers know it is their job to check in with employees, ask for feedback, and consider employee requests (not just give an automatic “no”). Managers should also have the power to address these problems.
• Let employees know that they are responsible for speaking up. They can’t complain about a problem unless they are working with management to fix it. Of course, employees need to feel safe from punishment when sharing grievances.
• Have a suggestions box--Depending on the size of the company, suggestions could be collected in an actual box, a virtual discussion board, a dedicated email address, or at department staff meetings. I know there are issues, but the input value outweighs the negatives.
• Encourage leadership to take a trip into the culture--The leadership team should be leaving their corner offices to travel to where employees go: the cafeteria, gym, and break room. Informal conversations are a great way to gather valuable information.

Of course, reality TV shows are far from reality. It wouldn’t be possible to unearth and fix every management problem and reward exceptional employees in an hour or even a week. Yet, we can gain some insight by watching someone else’s CEO squirm on network television. From their trials and successes, HR managers can implement strategies to foster a more effective and cohesive organization.

Elaine Varelas is Managing Partner at Keystone Partners, a Boston-based career managment company. She can be reached at

New Year Resolution: Aligning HR Initiatives With Business Strategy

Posted by Elaine Varelas January 3, 2011 08:00 AM

The New Year is the perfect time for fresh starts. There is something about seeing January on the calendar that leads us to take stock, make lists, and get organized. We’re willing to shed what isn’t working (pounds, old practices, and clutter), as well as take on new projects. It may be that our tendency to clean up and trim down is some kind of counterbalance to the excess and chaos of the holiday season. We crave calm and harmony after all the craziness.

This need to organize spills into the workplace too this time of year. Our desire to streamline may be even greater this year, as all of us--HR managers, company leaders, and employees alike--are hoping for some serenity and economic growth after the tumult of the past few years. As HR managers we can take advantage of our (New) yearly affinity for getting organized. It is the ideal time to channel our inner Martha Stewart to bring order to our work lives.

One of the most important items on our to do list should be aligning HR strategy with the organization’s business strategy. HR initiatives can work most effectively if they complement, not compete, with the company’s business goals and initiatives.

Determine the business strategy
The first step is to take a fresh look at the organization’s business strategy with the leadership team. What is the current business strategy? Has it changed because of economic conditions? Does the strategy need an overhaul (New Year, new strategy)? Does it just need to be tweaked? Does leadership simply need to make a new commitment to understanding the current strategy?

Communicate the strategy to employees
Once the strategy is determined, HR managers can help the leadership team articulate it to employees. Too many times, in countless organizations, employees are clueless about business strategy. If asked, they will tell you that they don’t know what it is and some will believe that it isn’t their business to ask. Understanding an organization’s business strategy, mission, and goals is not just an executive-level need. All employees--at every level--should know the company’s direction. HR managers’ roles are vital in this. Once the strategy is set, HR managers should make sure that it is understood and accepted by the entire organization. It may also help to develop a five minute “elevator speech” so that employees can understand and easily relay the organization’s strategy.

Have a casting call
Every employee has a role to play in the daily production of the organization. In addition to understanding the overall business strategy, employees should know how their specific job affects the larger organization. Seeing how they contribute to the success of the company helps employees feel more invested in the organization and more connected to their jobs. Many of us have heard the often-told story of the janitor at a hospital who was asked about his role at the organization. He said it was his job to make sure that the best doctors in the world deliver the best healthcare possible. That is a person who knows how his job affects the success of the organization!

Employees who can see how their job fits into the workings of the larger company are typically more productive and engaged at work. Employees feel valued by the organization when they see that what they do everyday makes an impact.

Aligning down the line
One way for HR managers to ensure that HR strategy reflects the business goals is to incorporate it into every part of the HR process from recruiting, and hiring to the exit interview. The business strategy, and how it relates to specific jobs and titles, can be explained during the interview and orientation process, and can be incorporated into job descriptions. It can also be part of training and development. The employee performance review process is a great time for managers and employees to discuss the business strategy and employees’ roles. This gives employees a chance to give their input about their own roles and how they can contribute on the organization as a whole.

Change is the only constant
Once you’ve aligned HR strategy to reflect the company’s business initiatives, your work isn’t done. Most likely, each strategy will continue to evolve. Every time there is major change, whether economic or personnel, the strategy should reflect that change, and HR executives need to communicate that change throughout the organization. It may be a good idea to revisit the strategy every New Year, when there is executive-level turnover, or when the business is affected by competitive or economic factors (either positive or negative).

This month, when we’re all motivated to organize, streamline, and get things done, it is a great time to align HR strategy with the organization’s business initiatives. As we embark on this New Year, here’s to a booming economy and a prosperous and aligned 2011!

Elaine Varelas is Managing Partner at Keystone Partners, a Boston-based career managment company. She can be reached at

Compensation Challenges Will Increase In 2011

Posted by Aaron Green December 20, 2010 09:00 AM

For the past couple of years many employers have had the luxury of not needing to spend much time or energy on compensation issues. Loyal employees were happy to have a job and contribute to their organization without expecting pay increases. Now these employees feel it is time to be rewarded for their loyalty or at least be paid what they feel is fair for the work they are performing.

One might ask how I know employees are feeling this way. Two reasons: 1) surveys and other data and 2) first-hand experience.

  • Survey results suggest upcoming compensation challenges
According to a Right Management national survey released this week, 84% of employees plan to actively seek a new position in 2011.

The Labor Department's survey known as the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (also released this week) shows that advertised job openings are at their highest level since August 2008.

While these surveys don't necessarily say employers will experience compensation challenges, they do say employees are open to new positions and new positions are becoming available. Combining these factors leads me to believe employees are going to be looking for raises to stay with their current employers.

  • First-hand experience

I manage a staffing firm that is currently experiencing an inflow of candidates who are looking for new opportunities solely because of money. While I'm excited to have the opportunity to represent these talented candidates, I want to help my readers and mention that in many cases it would not have taken much to retain these employees. In other words, employers are losing employees that they really shouldn't be losing. To be clear, I am not talking about mercenary employees who constantly shop the highest bidder; I'm referring to otherwise loyal, talented employees who enjoy their existing job except for feeling underpaid and/or underappreciated.

My suggestions for managing compensation challenges:

Proactively address compensation challenges before they become an issue

Once a talented employee concludes that they are unfairly compensated and decides they would consider another job, it is probably too late and their employer has an uphill challenge trying to retain that person. Employers really need to address this challenge before it gets to the point where the employee feels taken advantage of. I can't tell you how many times I talk to candidates who get counter-offers from their current employer and decline them. It typically does not even matter if the counter-offer is for more money then the job they are leaving to take. Don't let this happen to you: address true compensation issues before it is too late.

Consider internal equity as well as the larger marketplace for talent

For many people the amount of pay is less important than its perceived fairness or equity. It is only natural for employees to compare their pay to someone who is doing the same job within the same organization. Some employees will compare their pay to employees doing a different job in the organization or with someone doing the same job in another organization.

Many times the comparisons are not exactly fair to the employer. Employees use positions that are not really comparable at all as benchmarks. Or they ignore parts of their compensation package and only focus on the parts that compare unfavorably. For instance, Employee A who has a high base salary and low bonus only wants to talk about his bonus and why it is lower than Employee B who has a low base salary. Regardless of whether the comparisons are fair or not, employers will need to deal with fairness issues if they want to retain staff.

It really is crucial to know the "market" wages for your company's positions. There is a lot of information available: try the internet, industry trade organizations, or staffing firms- most will be happy to provide the information free of charge. The key is to be educated about fair pay in the marketplace; otherwise you run the risk of losing people.

Get creative with compensation and benefits

While we would like to pay everyone all they want to be paid, in the real world budget constraints exist. Look to maximize your budget by getting creative; I'll give a couple of examples ...

  • Flexible schedules

At my company we allow certain people very flexible schedules. The employees have certainly earned this benefit and they carry significant responsibilities. This benefit of a flexible schedule does not cost the company anything in hard dollars or even in management time to accommodate the flexibility. Yet the value to the employees is tremendous; from the employee's perspective the quality of life value is worth tens of thousands of dollars. It is truly a "win-win" situation. I'll mention that it took us some effort to make these situations work so that responsibilities could be managed, but the effort was well worth it.

  • Incentive based compensation

Let's say you are faced with a situation where you just can't pay someone any more money; maybe you are constrained by internal equity issues or maybe you have a budget challenge and you simply don't have the money to spend. Consider developing a creative incentive plan that rewards the employee if more value is created from their work. If the employee is truly delivering more value it might justify the additional compensation or benefit. Incentive plans are certainly easier to create in sales environment but with some effort can be developed for all employees. My favorite incentive plans reward innovation and/or customer service.

Don't "set it and forget it"

Commit to regular reviews of your compensation packages to ensure they are fair, equitable and competitive. Loyal employees may not mind waiting until their review date to bring up compensation concerns, but if there is no date or mechanism to raise their concern, the employee may get frustrated and leave.

Many employers will see compensation challenges in 2011. Don't be caught by surprise; proactively manage compensation at your organization so you can retain your talented employees.

Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at or (617) 250-1000.

‘Tis the Season to Re-gift

Posted by Elaine Varelas December 6, 2010 08:00 AM

by Elaine Varelas

As the holiday season approaches, many organizations are looking for ways to celebrate on a budget. Some companies are hosting toned-down holiday parties or forgoing the festivities altogether. Many managers and leadership teams are also abstaining from gift-giving as well. Maybe in this time of belt-tightening, we should consider re-gifting this year!

Typically, re-gifting takes all of the fun out of opening presents (If your Aunt Julie didn’t care for the vase she got at her 1983 wedding, what makes her think you’d like it?). Re-gifting at the office can also be a no-no. While most of us wouldn’t mind getting the keys to the CEO’s vacation home on the Cape, we could do without the hastily-wrapped tote bag left over from the corporate golf outing. Is it ever okay to re-gift at work?

Yes. There are some gifts that are guaranteed to be beloved by all employees no matter the age, sex, or shoe size of the recipient. HR managers can help identify these gifts by thinking about what they most want from leadership. If you could ask your leadership team for ANYTHING to make your job better, what would it be (minus the six figure bonus and summers off with pay)? If you could sit on Santa’s lap, whisper in his ear--and poof--you get your wish, what would you ask for? What do you need from the corner office to do your job well? I wish leadership would:

Tell me everything--I can’t do my job well if I am only getting part of the story. Leadership needs to be candid, honest, and forthcoming in all of their communications so I am armed with information and can respond quickly. This transparency should be spread throughout the organization so that employees know where they stand and can get on with their work.

Trust me--Trust is the foundation of any positive working relationship. Have faith in me that I will do my job, and do it well. I want this company to thrive and I am invested in it’s success. Let’s work together towards that same goal.

Acknowledge I have a life outside of work--I love my job, but I also need some down time. Please don’t expect me to be on-call every weekend. If I don’t respond to an e-mail you sent late Saturday night, please don’t call my house at 7:00 am on Sunday. While I don’t mind staying late once in a while, I would also like to have dinner with my family too.

Stop berating me--Yelling is only acceptable behavior if the building is on fire or there’s a half-price sale at Tiffany’s. Please do not scream at or belittle me alone or in front of others. And don’t look the other way if other managers berate their team members. Inflammatory language or even raised voices should never be tolerated in the organization.

Take care of your problem child--Please don’t take the easy way out and ignore that manager who is causing problems for employees. As a leader, you need to take action before it gets out of control. Also, if I come to you with a problem, please address it. If I have the courage to bring it up, please don’t push it aside and hope it goes away on it’s own.

Stop being a hater--Please do not tolerate any form of sexism, racism, or any other intolerant behavior--ever. Put a stop to it at the first sign, even if you are worried about being labeled too PC.

Say thank you, and mean it!--Please recognize me when I’ve done a good job and be sincere about it. There is nothing worse that a forced thanks (except maybe none at all). You also don’t have to be stingy with your accolades. I will gladly accept a “thank you” for delivering a report or making a phone call for you. You don’t need to withhold your appreciation for big projects only.

Wouldn’t it be a “wonderful life” if you actually got all of these things on your leadership wish list? You could be so productive! You’d love going into work everyday! The best part about receiving these gifts from leadership is that you could pay-it-forward by re-gifting these precious gems to all of the employees in the organization.

As HR managers we have the opportunity to make it happen. Work with the leadership team to make these gifts part of the foundation of the organization. Let leaders know that these basic tenets are important to the morale and retention of employees, not to mention the vitality and the success of the organization. Train managers so that they have the tools they need to work and manage within these parameters. When HR managers can ensure that these principles are followed throughout the organization, they have a gift that’s worthy of re-gifting.

Elaine Varelas is Managing Partner at Keystone Partners, a Boston-based career managment company. She can be reached at

2010: A Look Back

Posted by Aaron Green November 24, 2010 09:00 AM

The beginning of 2010 was still a dark period for most Boston workplaces. Salaries and compensation packages were static, employers and employees were tasked with doing more with fewer resources and in general there was still a lot of fear and unknown regarding the future.

Since then, the economy has slowly improved. The unemployment rate has fallen; employers in the state have added nearly 50,000 jobs; and the state is doing better than the rest of the nation in terms of unemployment and economic expansion rates.  However, we're certainly not back to pre-recession levels as unemployment is still historically high and there are still approximately 120,000 fewer jobs than when the recession began. In fact, many Massachusetts residents don't feel a recovery has begun

A survey that my firm, Professional Staffing Group, conducts each quarter with our HR clients echoes this mixed outlook. Looking back at the quarterly surveys and reports we've produced with our clients, as well as the daily interactions we have with hundreds of Boston HR departments, here's a snapshot of how far we've come this year and where we are now:

The Boston economy showed incremental improvement in 2010
Our economy is certainly not robust and not yet back to pre-2008 levels, but employers are adapting. According to our survey, most kept HR expenditures at a static rate throughout the year. And while the BLS projects that overall employment will increase by 10 percent in the next 5 years, Boston-area employers are only mildly optimistic. For the past 6 months, the HR managers and employers we've surveyed have said they plan to add staff (8 times as many said they'd add as those who said they'd cut staff). Yet, 52 percent say they expect staffing levels to remain the same.

Employer purse strings are starting to loosen
Employers are starting to offer compensation increases after having shelved these for several months.  In our most recent survey, 82 percent of employers said they expect compensation to increase in the next 12 months, up from 77 percent who said they expected an increase in last quarter's survey.  Sixty-seven percent of employers surveyed said they actually increased compensation during the past 12 months, up from 54 percent in our last quarter's survey.

The labor market is becoming tighter for certain positions 

Although the US unemployment rate is 9.6 percent, the US unemployment rate for job seekers with a college degree drops to only 4.7 percent. If we look at rates in Massachusetts we see that unemployment rates are much lower. The overall Massachusetts unemployment rate at 8.1% is 1.5% less than the national average of 9.6%. I'm not aware of a measurement of the unemployment rate for college graduates in Massachusetts but given the 1.5% difference in the overall rate, it seems likely to be in the mid 3% range. Therefore employers seeking degreed candidates and employees with specific credentials and skills, e.g. professional or managerial skill sets, have an even narrower field of candidates to choose from. Our latest quarterly survey found that 42 percent of employers plan to add staff in the next three months and 73 percent of employers say that staffing levels are too low. In 

what I think is an effort to promote from within, our latest survey shows that five times the number of employers said they?ll increase internal training over the number who said they are reducing that expenditure.

HR departments and resources have been stripped down
One of the most popular areas in the workplace to see cuts during the great recession was the HR function, leaving many HR departments with too few staff and resources. Now that the economy has improved, many HR departments are in re-building mode. Short-staffed firms have difficulty recruiting, screening and hiring new employees as quickly as they need them and, as a result, are turning to outsourced or contract recruiters or are re-tasking HR employees with recruiting to the detriment of other duties.

Retention is still not a major concern for most employers
According to our survey results, about half of employers say retention is a minor problem; only 9 percent see it as a major problem and 34 percent say it's not a problem at all. These results are consistent with the previous quarter's survey findings.

My personal feeling is that more employers should be concerned with retention and take actions now that will prevent it. I base my opinion on three factors: 1) Surveys of employees show a high percentage of employees would consider another job 2) Employer are preparing to hire (see above, 42 percentof responding companies plan to add staff in the next six months) 3) There is limited downside to taking actions to prevent turnover.

Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group
and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at or (617) 250-1000.

The Work/Life Balance Myth

Posted by Elaine Varelas November 1, 2010 08:00 AM

The Work/Life Balance Myth

by Elaine Varelas

Just thinking about our “to do” list for any given day is enough to keep us up at night (staff meeting, conference call, budget sheets, quarterly report, doctor’s appointment, daughter’s basketball game, vacation reservations, dinner). It’s exhausting trying to squeeze it all in! Adding to the pressure is our quest to strike that perfect balance between our work and personal obligations. Yet, by striving for that balance every day, we’re setting ourselves up for failure.

In fact, achieving work/life balance is a myth. Our lives—both work and personal—are always in flux. Our daily demands are ever-changing and difficult to predict—a project might go awry and we’re at work until late; or a death in the family may keep us from coming into the office at all. “Balancing” these demands every day is virtually impossible—and truly unnecessary. We need to rethink the way we look at balance. Instead of trying to strike a balance on a daily basis, we should instead aim for equilibrium over time. Juggling life’s demands is more like riding on a seesaw. Sometimes it’s up and sometimes it’s down. It’s difficult for two kids on a seesaw to keep it balanced in mid-air (and no fun). Accepting that work/life demands don’t need to equal out on any given day—or even week—can help take the pressure off employees and managers. It’s not that we can’t have it all—we just can’t have it all ALL of the time.

HR managers should determine how much of a priority work/life strategies are for the organization. For some companies, work/life policies are a cornerstone of recruitment and retention. If this is true in your organization, how can you make it work? The idea is to be transparent and look long-term. Here’s how:

Focus on goals
HR managers need to encourage managers to take a goal-oriented approach to managing. The focus should be on completing projects and meeting deadlines. This process requires less micromanaging and more autonomy for employees and groups. Managers must be clear on the goals for the short- and long-term. What needs to get done today? This week? This month? This quarter? Managers should also figure out how best to check in with employees to determine the status of work.

Support managers
Taking a goal-driven approach to work may be a foreign concept to some managers. They may have come up through the ranks punching timecards and docking pay for missed days. Most managers know that just because people are physically in the office doesn’t guarantee that they’re working, but they might struggle with not having more oversight on a day-to day basis. Focusing on goals can require an attitude adjustment. If an employee wants to leave early on Wednesdays during the summer to coach Little League, he isn’t “sneaking out” or “stealing time.” Managers shouldn’t punish employees if the work is getting done. Of course, this goal-oriented management technique won’t work with managers who have a “crisis du jour,” where everything becomes a major issue. Help managers plan out their own workload over the long-term, so every day doesn’t produce a new work emergency.

Step up communication
Employees should meet with managers to have a candid conversation about goals and expectations. It is an ideal time for employees to present requests and schedules (“I would like to volunteer at school on the third Wednesday of every month”) and deadlines. Both the work and personal obligations should be made clear so that the manager and employee can come up with an agreed-upon plan.

Strive for flexibility
Flexibility should be built into this system to accommodate the give-and-take necessary to make it work. Some projects may require multiple late nights in the office (the seesaw is up), and sometimes a sick child may take an employee out of the office for several days (and back down). Employees can’t feel like they can never take any time. On the other hand, managers need to know that the work is getting done, and that they can rely on their team members.

Build up trust
Trust is the basis of any positive relationship and is an intrinsic part of this process. Managers need to trust that work is being done and people aren’t leaving early every Friday just because they can get away with it. Employees also must trust that they won’t be punished for being upfront about communicating their needs or wants for personal time.

Make sure to re-visit
There needs to be a periodic “check-in” meeting between managers and employees to make sure the process is working. If deliverables aren’t being met for either party, the manager and employee need to have another candid conversation to revise the plan.

HR managers, company managers, and employees should stop working so hard to achieve the elusive work/life “balance” and instead work within the natural rhythm of work and life demands—sometimes they’re up and sometimes down. HR managers should work towards balance over time—the give-and-take will even out eventually. If managers can strive for equilibrium for the long-term, employees might actually be able to enjoy the ride!

Elaine Varelas is Managing Partner at Keystone Partners, a Boston-based career managment company. She can be reached at

Helping Employees Re-enter the Workforce

Posted by Aaron Green October 26, 2010 09:00 AM

The reality today is that more employers are hiring workers who have been out of the workforce for a period of time. Perhaps your new employee is a former stay-at-home-mom who decided it was time to get back to work, or perhaps she was enticed out of retirement after her employer discovered her skills couldn't be easily replaced. Some new workers will have recently experienced a prolonged period of unemployment because of the current economic conditions. Figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that over the past year the median duration of joblessness has been more than 19 weeks, which is the highest level it's been since the BLS started tracking it in 1967.

Whatever the scenario, employers should be aware that employees re-entering the workforce may initially be more productive if provided with some extra care to make their transition back to work smooth and successful. Here are some tips for helping the formerly unemployed successfully re-enter the workforce:

One of the first steps is to help new employees calm their new job jitters. Many employees who re-enter the workforce experience anxiety and fears of performing poorly. Keep an eye out for stress-related symptoms like low self-esteem, fear of making mistakes on the job, difficulty concentrating or insomnia. Some specific ideas are to:

  • Create a personal plan for success - a plan that articulates what is expected in the new job, how they will be measured and defines success will help the new employee focus and alleviate assumptions and miscues.
  • Pair them with a mentor - introduce and connect the new employee with a veteran staff member who can not only 'show them the ropes' but also provide perspective on workplace culture. The mentoring can be informal -- where you simply make the introduction and let the new employee know that the veteran is there if they need them; or more formal, in which case you orchestrate planned meetings or events.
  • Offer counseling - if a valued employee is struggling with adjusting to the workplace it may be beneficial to arrange for professional counseling sessions. Depending on the need and your organization's resources, these could range from sessions with the internal HR department, group workshops with an outside professional or one-on-one sessions with a specialist.

If it's a life change that has kept someone out of the workplace, e.g. caring for family, tending to health issues or other personal reasons, try to understand the life change and its impact on the person's work performance. And if possible be flexible to the employee's needs while holding the person accountable to results and high performance.

Perhaps your new employee is actually a former employee as well. According to a Career Builder survey of 2,924 hiring managers, 26 percent of employers who had laid people off in recent years were planning on bringing some of those layoff casualties back. There are a lot of benefits to rehiring former employees, including cost-effectiveness, efficiency, higher retention rates and faster on-boarding processes.

For employers looking to maintain relationships with former employees and incorporate them in a candidate pool, an online alumni network can be extremely helpful. Whether you create a custom web site or intranet for this purpose, or utilize Facebook and/or LinkedIn, an online network allows you to keep alumni updated on company news and job openings. The effort you make toward alumni relations can range from maintaining a database with individual contact information and skill sets to organizing events for alumni.

Many of the tips I mention above are considered good general workplace practices for all employees, and are particularly important now in order to adjust to a "new normal" workplace that includes managing employees whose career paths have been affected by the Great Recession.

Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at or (617) 250-1000.

What Are You Waiting For? Four HR Initiatives You Can Do Now to Reach Your Post-Recovery Goals

Posted by Elaine Varelas October 4, 2010 08:00 AM

By Elaine Varelas

As Tom Petty elucidates in one of his hit songs, “The Waiting,” well, it’s the hardest part. Waiting is not fun to do, yet many organizations seem to be in a holding pattern these days. Many HR initiatives are being put on the backburner until a future time (when the economy improves, cash flow loosens up, or just one more client comes in). Some organizations are putting off projects because investing now is too risky. But if HR managers and company leaders wait too long to implement important HR programs the risk can be even greater.

I have a friend who has big plans for herself once she loses weight. She says, “When I lose 20 pounds, I’m going to learn to dance, take a beach vacation, start dating again, and buy a new pair of jeans.” Meanwhile, her life (at least her fun life) is passing by. We sometimes make excuses for waiting, when it really isn’t in our best interest.

That is definitely true for organizations that are holding projects until the economy improves. According to a recent report by the National Bureau of Economic Research, the recession ended in June of 2009. Many businesses didn’t feel any immediate relief from the downturn’s official end and we still don’t know how quickly the economy will recover from the slump. Of course, there may never be a “perfect” time to reinvigorate stalled programs, but now is a great time to identify those projects we would do (if the HR budget fairy paid a visit) and get started.

While it’s true that some initiatives require a significant financial investment, organizations may be able to do others less expensively by rolling out a pilot program, using resources they already have available, or starting small. There are creative ways to embark on programs in uncertain times. It may be more costly for organizations that don’t. According a survey from Regus, 40% of the American workforce is displeased with their organizations and are planning to change jobs as soon as the economy improves. If you want to hold on to your people—and be in a position to recruit others—look into ways to revive your HR programs now.

Here are four common initiatives that many organizations are currently putting off and ways HR managers can get them going:

Recruit new talent
Your organization may not be in a position to take on additional salary costs, but imagine if it were. Who are the people you would be targeting? Who will help your business grow? Identify that talent now. Will you be looking to add recent college grads, one experienced leader, or a select few with specific technical skills? Once you’ve determined the type of hires you would need, revamp your networks. Reestablish relationships with college alumni offices, recruiters, and possible targets. Look for opportunities to “grow your own” by cultivating people already within your organization who may be right for these positions. Create a presence where your target people are so you’ll be in a position to make decisions quickly.

Start a wellness program
Wellness programs are extremely popular with employees and can cut future healthcare costs for employers. Yet, some HR managers are overwhelmed by the price tag and time investment it takes to begin a comprehensive program. One option is to introduce a pilot program. You could start with a project that would make the biggest impact, such as a smoking cessation program. You could also try creative ways to get more employees involved in different programs, such as morning or lunch-time walking programs, weight loss or quit smoking “buddies,” or a “Biggest Loser” challenge.

Recognize employees
While it would be ideal to begin giving employees bonuses once again, it isn’t in every company’s budget. Yet, bonuses are an acknowledgment for a job well-done and there are other, less expensive ways to recognize employees. HR professionals can encourage managers to celebrate small successes—with coffee cards, lunches, and long weekends. You can also institute incentive programs, where employees are rewarded for bringing in clients or finding ways to reduce overhead. Employees want to feel engaged and have a sense that the organization is invested in them, so be sure to encourage transparent leadership and open communication throughout the organization.

Ramp-up training and development
Training and development programs are a surefire way to keep employees engaged (and retained), but they may seem out of reach for HR managers. There are creative ways to train and develop employees on a shoestring budget. Look at your teams: could you do any cross-training (IT teaches sales how to use a new software and sales teaches the marketing department about public speaking). Consider starting a lecture series with guest speakers from your client base, vendors, or local universities. Mentor programs are an organic way to foster learning. Horizontal stretch assignments can also challenge and educate people and get them ready for the promotion when it is financially feasible. By showing an interest in employees’ development you are demonstrating an investment in the person and that person’s future with the organization.

If you take small steps to implement important HR programs now, your organization will be better poised to engage and retain employees when the economy takes off.

Elaine Varelas is Managing Partner at Keystone Partners, a Boston-based career managment company. She can be reached at

Tips for Managing in the Flexible Workplace

Posted by Aaron Green September 20, 2010 09:00 AM

Flexible workplace options can be great perks to offer workers. Polls have shown that they are the most desired work benefits among employees and they are also a good way for employers to attract or retain talent. However, if flexible work options are not managed well they can be ineffective or even counterproductive.

Flexible work options range from flextime to flexplace and include: varying starting and finishing times to the workday; part-time work schedules, working from home or telecommuting; job sharing, workers selecting their own shifts, and flexible leave or time-off provisions.

Following are some tips for managing employees with flexible work arrangements:

Understand that flexibility is a mindset - offering flexible work options means acknowledging that there is more than one way to do things. It's also recognition that workers have a life outside their jobs and that each employee has different life/work needs and desires and that those can change over time.

Communicate, communicate, communicate - to work well in a non-traditional setting, the flexible working employee must have strong communication with their manager, their team and anyone else they work with. Communication should be frequent, easy to do and take various forms (in-person, phone, email). Communication will help everyone understand the work being done but can also help managers gauge when the flexible work situation is working effectively.

Use technology to facilitate flexible work situations and good communication - a flexible-working employee won't be able to succeed if their technology is inferior to traditional workers. Incorporating new technologies or devices - such as video conferencing, instant messaging or web-based file sharing - can improve the experience as well.

Remember that a flexible work arrangement is a benefit - employees and employers should treat it accordingly. Set clear expectations that there has to be effort from both sides in order for the situation to work. The benefit may be one that is "earned" or that is offered when an employee proves they can handle the option or agrees to meet certain expectations. Managers should maintain benchmarks for checking on employees' progress and success.

Set clear expectations - in order to gauge success, you'll need to establish clear ground rules and make sure appropriate evaluations are in place. In the case of remote workers, managers can't rely on an employee's presence and activity to gauge his or her efforts; they'll need to measure deliverables and results (which should be the gauge for all workers anyway). While providing clear instructions, guidelines and deadlines is important with all employees, .these activities take or an even greater importance with employees working remotely or who are not in the office when their boss is.

Don't give up water cooler exchanges -flexible work arrangement can make it more difficult to gauge important employee attributes, like effort and attitude. In traditional work situations managers rely on casual and unscheduled ways to check-in with employees and ensure workers are engaged and on track. Don't overlook the importance of providing remote employees with motivation and confirmation of their work's value.

Consider career growth- as employers, we arrange flexible work situations because we value our employees so it's important to allow for and encourage career growth within the flexible work arrangement. In other words, don't let the fact that a valued employee has a flexible schedule stifle their career and the value they can bring to your organization.

Change the culture - Certain employees with traditional work arrangements may feel resentful of colleagues with flexible arrangements. Take the time to explain why your company has the flexible arrangement. Try to win skeptics over by explaining the advantages of the flexible approach to the employee as well as how it benefits the organization. Yesterday's detractor could find their personal situation has changed and they now value a flexible arrangement of their own.

Know the law - Flexible work arrangements can sometimes add a layer of complexity to the workplace. You will want to make sure you know what your rights and responsibilities are under employment law. When necessary, get advice from experts.

Measure results not time served - The driving idea behind many flexible work arrangements is that results matter more than the amount of time an employee spends working in the office.

Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions.  He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at or (617) 250-1000.

Recruiting 101: Five Surefire Ways to Attract Top Talent

Posted by Elaine Varelas September 6, 2010 08:00 AM

By Elaine Varelas

Now that the once-stalled economy is starting to budge again, many organizations are looking to hire. Where is your organization in the recruitment process? Is it, “Quick! We need to dust off that decade-old recruitment plan!,” or has your organization been “recruiting” all along, even during a hiring freeze?

There’s a reason our profession is called human resources. It is about people, and more specifically about relationships. How an organization’s own people: it’s leadership, employees, and HR team, choose to relate to others defines the organization. Those relationships can be with other employees, clients, prospects, candidates, recruiters, college representatives, and community members. It is the public perception of these relationships that forms an employer brand. It is not something that can be created in a day (or when the market dictates). This brand should be cultivated over time—even when the organization isn’t hiring. Here are the five most important long-term strategies organizations can implement to recruit (and retain) the best employees:

1. Know your target and your message
The most effective way to attract top talent is to define what an “ideal employee” means for your organization. What type of people do you need? What skill sets are no longer relevant? Once you determine the kind of employee you want, develop your sales pitch. What do your target employees need to know about your organization? What will they find attractive, interesting, and challenging? By knowing your audience, you can better hone your message.

2. Streamline the staffing process
The biggest complaint from job-seekers is that they send their resumes out to companies, but they feel like they’re launching them into a black hole—they never hear back from organizations. Granted, the volume of candidates applying for jobs is massive, and it is difficult to keep up with the demand. Yet, an organization’s staffing activity is the best way to attract better prospects. If organizations do it well, word spreads. If they don’t, word spreads even faster. How an organization treats people during the application and interview processes is a telling sign as to how they treat their employees.

A good rule of thumb is that the organization should give back what an applicant puts in. For example, if someone submits a resume, that person should get an automated email response acknowledging receipt. If a person comes in for an interview, he or she should get a call back from a manager—and the response needs to be timely. Many HR managers think this is already happening at their organizations, but it needs to be formalized. A manager who does the interview might think that the hiring manager will get back to the interviewee and vice versa. The best way to avoid this confusion and simplify the system is to assign a point person. After interviews, candidates should have a business card with contact information for a specific person to answer any questions they may have.

3. Revamp your exit strategy
As important as it is to value people’s time and feelings during the hiring process, it is just as vital during downsizing. How do you send people out the door? The same attention, care, and respect that you afford your employees or star candidates needs to be extended to those you let go. You don’t want the first thing a prospective employee sees during a Google search of your company to be a blog written by a disgruntled former employee called, “Company X treats people like &#%*!”

4. Grow your own
Most organizations have access to thousands of prospective future employees within their own walls and communities. They should be instituting programs to gain exposure within these groups. One way to do this is through Employee Referral Programs. Current employees are your most influential spokespeople for prospects. They offer a unique perspective about what it’s really like to work at the company. Through incentive programs, employees can recruit their friends and families to apply for jobs.

HR managers can also establish programs in the community. They can partner with local high schools and colleges to offer training, events, and internships. Volunteering and sponsorships are another great way to establish a commitment to the community. People are more apt to support (and seek employment at) organizations that are invested in their neighborhoods. These long-term recruitment techniques can offer major advantages at hiring time.

5. Embrace what’s new
If it isn’t broke, do fix it! By utilizing new technologies and recruitment methods, you are establishing your organization as a progressive company—and that’s where top talent wants to work. Right now, that technology is social media. It is not enough to have a few managers on LinkedIn. There needs to be a corporately-organized social media strategy encompassing the Internet, social media sites, such as LinkedIn and Facebook, Twitter, blogs, video, and the company’s own web site. You may want to consider having each business unit head up its own strategy. The biggest part of this approach should be showcasing the stories of current employees. They are the best advocates for the company and can give prospective employees a first-hand look at how the organization operates.

Your organization should always be in recruitment mode, even when you’re not hiring. If you take a long term approach to recruitment, you can begin to build your employer brand. And when you do need a hiring push, your organization will be ready to pick up speed.

Elaine Varelas is Managing Partner at Keystone Partners, a Boston-based career managment company. She can be reached at

Reference Checks are More Important Now than Ever Before

Posted by Aaron Green August 16, 2010 09:00 AM

While reference checks have always been an important part of the hiring process, recent employment trends have made them even more important.

Recent trend - covering gaps in employment with inaccurate information
The recession has kept large numbers of people out of work for extended periods of time. In fact, 4.3 percent of the labor force has been out of work for more than six months-a level much higher than after any other recession since 1948.

Some companies exclude any and all unemployed candidates from consideration. Candidates know companies may view their lack of employment negatively and some cover gaps with inaccurate experience. While I am not a proponent of universally ruling out unemployed candidates (in fact, I recently blogged about how excluding unemployed candidates is a bad recruitment strategy), dishonest candidates must be ruled out. What to look out for:

  • Self-employed candidates: You need to assess if any meaningful level of work was actually performed. I respect candidates with a good work ethic who did whatever they could to earn income during the recession, but be careful to not be fooled by candidates who embellish too much.
  • Working for family or friends: Same concern as with self-employed candidates. I once did a reference check to a family member who told me the candidate didn't really work there. Rather than cover for the candidate, the family member was concerned about a bad reflection on her business so she told me the straight story. I never would have known had I not performed the reference check.

Recent trend - fabricating in-demand skill sets
In spite of high unemployment, certain skill sets remain in high demand. While it is acceptable for candidates to highlight their most desirable skills, there is an increased number of candidates who cross the line and simply make up skills and work experience that they don't have. If you hire these deceptive job seekers, you run the risk of finding out the hard way that their experience was not what you thought it to be.

Recent trend - Media inspired lies
Sensational stories in the media about employees who lied their way to money and power while duping employers and co-workers along the way cause some candidates to think telling lies about their background is acceptable conduct.

Best practice for reference checks

Use the back door
Standard reference checks are of limited use. By standard I mean you call the references that the candidate provides. Expect these hand-picked people to say only good things about the candidate. You need to use your network and speak with someone at the organization where the candidate worked who will give you candid information (or, alternatively, a customer the candidate serviced). Many people in recruiting refer to this as a "back door reference."

The goal here is not necessarily to "dig up dirt" on the candidate but rather to get a more complete and unbiased picture of the candidate in order to make the most informed decision possible. Be discrete and take care not to create any problems for a candidate who is conducting a confidential search.

The challenge is finding a person who will be honest and open with you. It is easy if you know someone at the organization where the candidate worked; if you don't know anyone, work at it. Try social networking sites (i.e. Linked-in), send an email around your office or to your friends or alumni group, simply ask "do you know anyone who works at XYZ Company?" If your candidate worked locally it is highly likely that you will get a hit if you reach out to your contacts. Back door references are well worth the extra effort since they can prevent bad hires or provide the information that prompts you to make the right hire.

Good advice
For excellent guidance on how to conduct reference checks, read the book "Who" by Geoff Smart and Randy Street. Smart and Street recommend a total of seven reference interviews for key hires: three past bosses, two peers or customers, and two subordinates. To save yourself time and increase the likelihood you reach you reach the reference, they recommend you ask the candidate to contact the reference to set-up the interview. Smart and Street also recommend five simple questions to ask on reference calls:

1. In what context did you work with the person?
2. What were the person's biggest strengths?
3. What were the person's biggest areas for improvement back then?
4. How would you rate his/her overall performance in that job on a 1-10 scale? What about his or her performance causes you to give that rating?
5. The person mentioned that he/she struggled with __________ in that job. Can you tell me more about that?

Since many people don't want to provide negative information on reference calls you will need to pay attention to both what people say as well as how they say it and press for details. A positive reference will be unmistakable; it will be full of unqualified compliments.

Following the above guidelines will help ensure that you're getting what you want in a candidate and making informed hiring decisions. While I am sympathetic to the struggles of job seekers in these difficult economic times, desperation is breeding dishonesty and hiring managers must remain diligent about candidate screening and reference checks.

Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at or (617) 250-1000.

There is a Cure for the “It’s Not Fair!” Blues

Posted by Elaine Varelas August 2, 2010 08:00 AM

By Elaine Varelas

Here we are in the middle of summer and we’re surrounded by the sounds of the season: waves crashing, fans whirring, the chiming of ice cream trucks, and the battle cries of children everywhere screaming, “It’s not fair!” You may hear this as the kids ardently plead with their parents for that sleepover, a few more minutes in the pool, or the last cupcake.

While you may think that this statement is restricted to childhood, human resource professionals are hearing it more often in the office, as well. As HR managers adjust to the changing demographics of the workplace, it is becoming increasingly challenging to manage and motivate (and please) everyone. For the first time in history, we have four generations of people in the workforce. It stands to reason then that a “one size fits all” approach to motivating employees will most likely fall flat. Yet, HR managers may not be able to accommodate the perhaps hundreds of requests or suggestions from employees. It may seem overwhelming to HR managers to develop a retention and benefits program that will satisfy everyone—while eliminating jealousy and rivalry (“Why do they get more vacation time than we do?”).

The good news is that while there may not be a cure for the summertime blues, HR managers can help to remedy the “It’s not fair!” blues. The first step is for HR managers to cast aside one of the biggest management fallacies: “In order to be fair, you must treat everyone the same.” This is simply not true—and most employees would agree. In fact, different generations of people are going to be motivated by very different things. While it may be one employee’s dream to get paid time-off from work to build houses for a favorite charity, it may seem like cruel and unusual punishment to another. To be fair, HR managers should treat everyone equitably—not the same.

Foster Teamwork
Employees will be better able to understand each other’s motivations by getting to know one another and working as a team. Employee development should be centered around leadership and teamwork to develop trust and respect between generations. This will also help eliminate same-generation cliques or camps. Cross-generational teams can foster a positive learning environment because each generation has so much to share. This can also work on a one-on-one basis through mentor programs. Teaming a younger person up with a veteran employee can be mutually beneficial. The seasoned employee can share expertise about how to work with clients, while the younger employee can give a tutorial on how to master a smart phone.

Inquire Within
Don’t assume that just because people are of a certain age, they will all be motivated by the same things. Of course, there are some similarities in what people want from their jobs when they are at certain stages of their lives. For instance, people in their 30s and 40s often request professional development and training programs, or a flexible schedule to accommodate their family lives. Baby boomers may want a sabbatical or time to travel. Young workers may want insurance for their pets. The best way to determine what employees want is to ask! You can conduct a formal survey or have managers talk to employees individually.

Tailor Your Program
While it may not be possible or financially viable to entertain every individual’s request, you may see trends within groups of people from the same generation. The next step is to examine the needs of the organization. What does the company need from employees? What is the trade-off in providing a benefit? You may realize that an employee request may match perfectly with the organization’s mission or business goals. For example, a boomer generation employee may want to become a “snow bird,” working nine months out of the year in New England and three months in Florida. For some businesses, such as retail, this arrangement may work well as they would have an extra employee to work during the busy season down south without having to hire additional staff.

Shout it out
Once you’ve developed your program, let people know all of the details. Clarity and transparency are key. How does it work? How can people choose benefits? What are the options? If HR managers do a good job of communicating about the policies there will be less chance of envy or hard feelings.

Build Support
By working hard to develop a sense of team, camaraderie, and respect across generational lines, HR managers can help employees empathize with one another and care about each other. Jealousy and rivalry can be replaced with a happiness that the organization is listening to its employees, and is working to support people in ways that are meaningful to them. Hopefully, employees can look around at their co-workers and say, “What is important to them is important to me.” HR managers can then hear employees exclaim, “Hey, this IS fair!”

Elaine Varelas is Managing Partner at Keystone Partners, a Boston-based career managment company. She can be reached at

Five Ways Social Media Can Help Your Recruiting Efforts

Posted by Aaron Green July 19, 2010 09:00 AM

Hiring activity is predicted to increase for the second half of 2010, so recruiters must have their candidate pipelines primed to compete for talent. Here's why social media, such as blogs and social networking sites (e.g. LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook), should be part of your recruiting strategy:

Blogging drives traffic to your site and builds brand recognition
If you have the resources, i.e. the time, energy and a bit of skill, regularly blogging about your industry or about career-related issues can generate significant brand awareness and drive traffic to your website. A blog on your domain can attract links, attention, publicity, trust and increase your site's search rankings. (Because blogs are generally updated more frequently than regular website pages, they can rank higher in searches.) Offering comments that add value to someone else's blog is another way to generate a following.

Online professional networks can increase the quality of hire
Social networks aren't just for sharing photos and updates about where you are or what you're doing at a given moment. They can also be an important tool for networking professionally. Professional networks range from industry-specific or job-specific groups on LinkedIn, to community websites for a particular industry, to corporate alumni networks. Members tend to keep their contributions on a professional level and share information or gather data related to their industry or profession. Job searches are typically a key component of these networks and job queries or posts can uncover candidates that wouldn't also appear in response to a job board post. Mining alumni networks is another tactic that yields high-quality candidates, as they are already familiar with the company and have an easily accessible performance record.

Social media enhances job postings
It is widely accepted inside the recruiting industry that online job postings are not a very effective way to find job candidates. In fact, recruiting through job board postings are often referred to as "post and pray" because it's a strategy based on hope rather than action. Of the countless training programs designed to help recruiters find the best candidates, none of them emphasize job boards as a strategy - rather, they focus on networking and direct recruiting. And since many social media tools emphasize networking it is natural to reason that combining job postings with online networking will yield better results. In fact, incorporating your Facebook fan page and LinkedIn groups into your job posting strategy can increase your chances of success. For one, they increase the number of people that see your posting. Secondly, they make the job posting an interactive discussion by allowing interested folks to comment on the post and by allowing you to immediately see who is interested in the post and all of their profile information. And for those of us who can't ignore job boards altogether, social media can help us drive more qualified candidates to our job posts. 

Social media allows you to customize messages to your audience
In the same way you may be using different email campaigns to target different distribution lists, you could establish multiple brand personalities on Twitter. One Twitter account could be the official company brand, one could be a "Jobs@OurCompany" Twitter account that only tweets about job openings (or related info) and one could be a "personal" Twitter account for senior leadership that reflects the personal musings and lends personality to your social media efforts. This practice allows followers to select the "channel" or voice they're most interested in. The end result is more qualified and higher quality followers who are more likely to engage and respond.

Social media can help you identify and engage with passive candidates
Passive candidates are candidates who aren't openly seeking and applying for jobs. Although they may not respond to a job board post, they could be active online as part of a social network, blog community or Twitter list. Connecting with them or with groups of their peers allows you to build a relationship so that when they are ready to seek a new job (and make the transition from passive candidate to active candidate) you will already be engaged with them.

Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at or (617) 250-1000.

Employees Pop The Question: Will You Engage Me?

Posted by Elaine Varelas July 6, 2010 08:00 AM

Wedding season is in full swing. Whether you are elbow-deep in puffy dresses, flowers, and invitations, or leisurely browsing the online registry at Crate and Barrel—most us are involved in someone’s nuptials this summer. While weddings launch the beginning of a couple’s married life, they also mark the end of another special point: the engagement.

Whether long or short, the engagement is an exciting time for a couple. Most couples are completely focused on their relationships and their lives together. They are closely connected to each other, and talk often about their plans for the future. They make a big deal out of introducing each other to family and friends. Most of them try not to miss an opportunity to extol the virtues of the other to anyone—college roommates, golf buddies, even strangers on the T.

It is this “honeymoon” experience, this deep connection within a relationship that HR professionals are trying to emulate through employee engagement initiatives. Even though there is an absence of romantic love, they want their employees to feel supported by and invested in the company for which they work, and to be excited about their jobs and work environment (without the PDA, please!). Ideally, they are hoping employees will become champions for the organization. They want their employees to advocate for the organization internally with co-workers, vendors, and clients. They also want employees to promote the organization outside of company walls to family, friends, and yes, even strangers.

It is proven that engaged employees are more satisfied and productive in their jobs, which can bolster morale, increase retention, and impact the bottom line. Yet, leaders within individual organizations are often left wondering if their own employee engagement programs are effective. Are employees happy? Are they as productive as possible? Do they feel a connection to their colleagues and the organization? Are we doing all we can to maximize engagement?

To find the answers to these questions, many HR professionals are turning to pricey engagement surveys and research. Many of these surveys are lengthy and involved and leave leadership teams with boatloads of data—and often more questions than answers (What do we do with all of this information?).

While engagement surveys can be effective tools for gauging employee engagement, many organizations make the mistake of jumping into them too quickly, without doing any prep work. They also try to measure too much or the wrong things. Some initiatives are too ambitious—they ask employees hundreds of questions which result in a book of data longer than any classic novel. Yet, the organization’s core issues and challenges are buried within the document. Other times, the surveys are too generic. They can’t pinpoint the issues facing a specific company because most surveys are designed to serve as umbrellas to cover any type of company in any industry. It is difficult to analyze data if you don’t know what you’re hoping to find. The first question HR managers should ask is, “What are we measuring?” The second question should be, “How do we measure for it?”

HR professionals may want to consider tailoring a survey to address the specific needs of the organization or altering an existing survey so the results more closely mirror the organization’s own needs.

For example, if there is high dissatisfaction and turnover under middle managers across all areas of the company, HR managers may want to focus on manager engagement. Unfortunately, manager engagement in surveys is most often measured by the manager’s own productivity, satisfaction, and investment in the company. While this information is good to know, it doesn’t get to the root of the issue of employee turnover and morale. HR managers can better determine this information by taking the focus off the individual managers and putting it on the groups. The alternative manager engagement survey should examine productivity, succession, and advancement within manager’s teams. It may also help to survey those who have left to ask them why, as well as candidates who were interviewing for jobs within departments, but went elsewhere.

By coming up with specific areas to measure and crafting the research to determine answers to these challenges, the engagement survey process becomes more manageable, and better able to determine results that can actually be addressed. The survey becomes a hands-on tool for improving engagement, instead of a lofty goal that will only exist in theory. This in itself can help engagement, as employees see that the organization is creating an action plan to improve work life for employees, not just proselytizing.

Engagement surveys are effective tools for determining employees’ connection to the organization. But before implementing them, HR professionals must first determine what they want to measure and then create a survey that will get results. By focusing on the core issues facing the organization, company leaders can make sure that their Mr. and Mrs. Rights stay perpetually engaged to the organization.

Excluding Unemployed Candidates is a Bad Recruitment Strategy

Posted by Aaron Green June 21, 2010 08:07 AM

I feel the need to comment on a recent recruiting trend, which is that an increasing number of companies are only interested in hiring people who already have a job. My feeling is that this strategy is misguided and results in missed opportunities for top talent.

Let's start by looking at the reasons why companies might take this approach. In general there are two reasons why companies exclude unemployed candidates:

1.  Companies believe that most unemployed candidates are not working because they are less qualified than employed candidates.  

Making this blanket assumption is simply off-base. While some candidates may be less qualified, many are highly qualified. There are many reasons why people end up unemployed that have nothing to do with the person's talent, work ethic, and overall value as an employee.

2.  Efficiency: Since there are so many people unemployed, recruiters get bombarded with applicants for job openings. Screening out unemployed applicants makes the process more efficient.

While I'll agree taking this approach might make the hiring process more efficient, it does not make it more effective. This approach is a short cut, and there is a cost to this short cut; excluding unemployed applicants potentially eliminates top talent from consideration. On certain searches you might be able to get away with the short cut approach, but I would suggest you resist the temptation. Instead raise your standards and look at a wider candidate pool which includes unemployed applicants.

I'll provide two more reasons why considering unemployed applicants is beneficial:

  • The Federal government has been making it more enticing for employers to hire unemployed workers. A 2010 tax break just took effect stating that employers who hire an unemployed worker are exempted from paying that worker's FICA (social security) contributions for the rest of the 2010 calendar year. Firms that hire unemployed workers and keep them employed for one calendar year are also eligible for an additional $1,000 credit. 

  • Unemployed top talent may be more willing and eager to start work and come with fewer strings attached than someone who has to leave their current employer. If you are looking to move quickly to fill a role, you will likely end up saving time by finding a qualified applicant who may be available to start sooner and with less reservation.

While it's not illegal for recruiters or hiring managers to require candidates to be currently employed, it is an unproductive practice for employers interested in hiring the very best talent available.

Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at or (617) 250-1000.

Office Conflict—What Every HR Manager Should Know

Posted by Elaine Varelas June 7, 2010 08:00 AM

By Elaine Varelas

If you were to mention the words “office conflict” in a room full of HR managers, you would surely get a wide variety of responses. For some people, conflict takes on a negative connotation. They imagine lawsuits, litigation, and office strife. Some people thrive on the thrill of conflict. Others still, try to avoid it at all costs.

What is your instinctual response when someone says “office conflict?” How do you handle conflict at your organization? No matter your reaction to the words, most HR managers are bound to encounter conflict in their roles. Here’s what every HR manager needs to know about conflict:

Conflict happens.
Whether you work at a Fortune 500 company, a family business, in a partnership (and even in some sole proprietorships)—conflict will occur. Within any relationship—professional or personal—there is bound to be disagreement. It doesn’t reflect badly on you as an HR manager if your workplace has conflict, and it doesn’t indicate that there is something inherently faulty about your office culture or policies. Conflict is natural.

Avoiding it does more harm than good
In some cases, HR managers make the mistake of handling conflict by avoiding it. They set up systems to try to reduce, mitigate, or eliminate conflict or situations where discord may occur. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work—conflict still happens. But in the process of squelching it, HR managers are also stifling ideas. Ideas in the workplace are not always generated through disagreement, but oftentimes, through the process of conflict (heated discussions or passionate pleas) big ideas are born. Managers must also be able to deal with conflict to move the idea process along. By taking away the space to have these conversations, you may be robbing the organization of its methods for thinking big.

Let the people speak!
Conflict is most effectively resolved by the parties experiencing the conflict. Channeling the issue through layers of HR red tape and soliciting outside opinions only serves to dilute and delay the outcome. Everyone should represent him- or herself in the resolution process. It may also help to have the manager in attendance so the team can strategize ways to resolve the disagreement. HR managers can help guide the process, offer support, and give employees and managers the tools they need work out a solution on their own, but should avoid trying to solve the problem or dictate a resolution.

And the winner is……unknown.
Not always, but many times in the conflict resolution process, clear winners and losers emerge. It is important that no one outside of the process (colleagues and peers) have an idea about which party was victorious. HR managers should protect the privacy of employees and the integrity of the process. Also, even though there is a “winner” and a “loser,” all people involved should feel like they have the tools, training, or systems in place to help them come out stronger on the other side of the issue.

Get over it!
Once the conflict is resolved, it should be in a permanent state of resolution. There is no grudge-holding, hard feelings, getting even, or revenge. It is the HR manager’s charge to make sure that both parties feel satisfied with the solution. They should also communicate the importance of accepting the outcome and moving forward.

Talk about it.
HR managers can help remove the stigma of office conflict by talking about it. Let employees know that it is okay to have disagreements. People will be heard, and the organization will support people in resolving their issues professionally. This is not a street fight or a bullying situation, but a specialized process for handling a business issue. Create a safe place for people to talk about resolving conflict.

Have a plan.
We’ve acknowledged that conflict will occur, so plan for it! Be prepared to have those difficult conversations with employees or managers. Develop set tools and processes for handling conflicts. Give people the training, coaching, tools, and support they need to work towards a solution.

Practice. Practice. Practice.
The more you do something—play the violin, throw a baseball, speak in front of a crowd—the better you get at it. The same is true for resolving conflicts. HR managers will become more skilled at facilitating conflict resolution the more often they practice. Employees and managers can also get more adept at it if HR managers can help them feel more confident and equipped to handle these issues when they arise.

The words “office conflict” can cause a number of different reactions in a space full of human resources professionals. Yet, if HR mangers can deal with conflict head-on and work with their employees to resolve it, they won’t have to fear conflict—and may even welcome it at their organizations.

Retention: Employees' Plans and Employers' Views Do Not Connect

Posted by Aaron Green May 24, 2010 12:00 PM

It is official: the recession has receded and Massachusetts employers are starting to hire again. Last week, Boston Globe writer Robert Gavin reported on a forecast prepared by Northeastern University economist Alan Clayton-Matthews which estimates that Massachusetts added more than 12,000 jobs in the first quarter of this year and predicts that 200,000 Massachusetts jobs will be created in the next five years.

In addition, I have some first-hand information that employers are hiring. My company, Professional Staffing Group (PSG), regularly surveys our Massachusetts clients, and our latest survey compiled in April showed that almost half of employers expect to increase staff in the next 12 months. Looking back to PSG's Q4 survey, when companies were asked when they expected staffing levels to increase, the most common response was "unknown." In the April survey, only 8% responded "unknown" in regard to hiring plans for the next quarter; contrasting these responses tells me that employers are becoming more confident regarding hiring.

Employers are not very worried about retention

The recent PSG survey told us that employers aren't expressing great concern about retention and employee engagement issues. Only 12% of employers view retaining top talent as a significant problem, and 19% of employers view employee engagement as a significant problem.

Employers are not spending money on HR programs related to retention

Our survey also asked employers whether they anticipated increased spending in areas such as reimbursement for continuing education, professional certification, training and development, travel, or tradeshow or seminar attendance. In all HR areas except for one, employers don't expect to spend any more money than they did in last year (2009 was a year when most employers cut spending). Internal training and development stands out as the only area in which substantially more employers expect to increase spending than those expecting to decrease spending (3 to 1 ratio). The fact that employers do not expect to spend much in this regard will not help retention.

Employees plan to make career changes

Last August, during the height of the recession, a survey of 1,000 employees by found that more than half of employees polled planned to make a career change or go back to school when the economy recovered.

The Disconnect

If Massachusetts is going to be adding jobs as forecasted by Alan Clayton-Matthews and as represented by PSG's clients who responded to our survey, where are the employees going to come from to staff these new positions? Sure, unemployment will decrease but that won't cover the gap. Even now certain in-demand skill sets are in short supply. It is simply unrealistic to believe that a substantial number of jobs will be created in the local area and also believe that retention will not be impacted.

A call to action for employers

Think again about the CareerBuilder survey result that more than half of employees polled plan to make a career change or go back to school when the economy recovers. What would you do if half your employees left their jobs? It is a scary thought. Hopefully your company has already taken steps to build or maintain employee loyalty (see my article on building employee loyalty during a recession). Now is the time to evaluate your programs and policies to ensure you are doing all you can to retain your employees.

Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at or (617) 250-1000.

Life Lessons for Leaders

Posted by Elaine Varelas May 1, 2010 06:00 AM

by Elaine Varelas

What makes a leader today? It may be too soon to extract all of the lessons from the wreckage of the recent economic free-fall. In fact, many businesses are still reeling from the impact, and most others are on the cusp of a slow and incremental climb-out. There is no doubt that we have a completely altered economic landscape from just a few years ago. What kind of leaders will organizations need to pull out of this slump?

Today’s leaders may not all look like those who inhabited the c-suite a few decades ago (older, white, males). There’s more diversity in executive offices—women, people of color, and young professionals are working their ways into positions of power. Some of the traditional leadership styles have changed as well. Ruling with an iron fist or only hiring leaders with years of longevity with a company have proven to be ineffective ways to lead and choose leaders. It just doesn’t work in a digital, global economy. How can HR managers guide their organization’s leadership going forward? As we move into this next decade, what skills are obsolete? And more importantly, what are the leadership characteristics that will help organizations rebuild and flourish?

In fact, the qualities that make great leaders actually stem from those life lessons that were instilled in all of us as children. While it is too trite to say “Everything I Learned About Being A Leader, I Learned in Kindergarten,” there is a kernel of truth in that sentiment. Of course, leaders aren’t made in grade school (or even business school), but the survival skills we develop in the elementary grades can give leaders an edge. Here are some basic tenets of leadership excellence that can be gleaned from those grade school lessons.

Be Ready to Learn
Even in preschool, it’s not all about recess and show-and-tell. Kids are taught the ABCs and 123s. School is a place to learn, discover, and think critically. Effective leaders must be constantly seeking answers, asking questions, and gathering information. Yes, leaders can rely on intuition and hunches for ideas, but they must back it up with quantitative research. Proceeding without data to support business direction is akin to a high-school kid blindly filling out a multiple choice test based on the chords of a favorite song.

There is a difference between what you think, what you know, and what you can prove. What your organization’s leadership believes about the organization is not necessarily accurate. Can it be validated? HR managers can help leadership step back and get a full perspective. Set up a 360º review system to test assumptions about the organization and its leadership.

Stop Talking and Listen
In school, if you don’t listen, you don’t learn. This statement also applies in the workplace. Leaders who believe communication comes from the top-down only are missing out on valuable insight. Information must flow both ways. If there are any leaders at your organization who live on a one-way street, tell them to move! Talking “down” to employees and selectively doling out information is an antiquated idea that will serve to alienate employees, and leaders will be left trying to assemble a puzzle without a key piece.

No Bullying allowed
With the recent tragedy surrounding bullying in schools, there will be an even further crack-down on aggressive behaviors in academia. The same intolerance needs to infiltrate the workplace. Bad behavior and workplace hostility should no longer be acceptable. Research shows that fear is not a good motivator. Bad behavior decreases productivity and puts employees at risk. Of course, it is easy to terminate a workplace bully who is not getting the job done. But sometimes managers and company leaders are willing to overlook bad behavior in top-performers. Are you willing to make those hard choices? Will leadership institute a “no tolerance” policy no matter the money-generating potential of the bully?

Diversity Matters
You get more out of an education when you encounter a wide variety of people. In most public schools, classes are comprised of kids from different backgrounds, religions, races, and economic status. Many work teams are also made up of people from disparate backgrounds, as well as different ages. Multigenerational teams are the new office norm. By building work groups of people of different ages and experience level, teams can benefit from multiple perspectives. Leadership and the company culture must support this diversity to get the most out of their teams by communicating the message “Respect your elders AND respect your youngsters.”

Trust is a Limited Resource
There’s an honor system in school that shouldn’t be breached. Teachers trust students not to cheat, and kids put their trust in teachers to help them learn. But when that trust is violated, it can cause serious damage. There is also an honor system within organizations, as well between the leadership team and employees. Unfortunately, trust in senior management at companies everywhere is at an all-time low. HR managers must take the lead in helping leadership maintain, or rebuild that trust. One way to do this is to help management lead in a more transparent way and share as much information as possible with employees so they can feel comfortable in their positions and stay focused on their work.

By taking a cue from those life lessons that we learned back in grade school, HR managers and company leaders can help lift their organizations from the rubble of the economic crisis and move towards a prosperous and solid future.

Six Essential Questions for Job Interviews with Recent College Graduates

Posted by Aaron Green April 19, 2010 09:00 AM

With the economy improving and a new crop of college graduates getting set to enter the workforce, hiring managers have a busy season ahead. Interviewing recent college graduates (RCGs) is slightly different from interviewing other job candidates in that most don't have deep employment experience and many lack polished interviewing skills. However, by incorporating these six essential questions into your interview process, you'll be more likely to uncover top talent in this candidate pool:

1. What are the candidate's qualifications?

You will review the candidate's work experience, including internships, but it's also important to consider non-work or non-paid experience that qualifies them for the job. Did they work on a relevant school project? Were they involved in extra-curricular groups? If so, what was their role? Look at these experiences, as well as internship experience, in a non-linear way to see if the candidate has developed skills or gained experience that make them well-qualified for the job. For instance, someone who assisted in alumni fundraising telethons might be suited for a sales career.

2. How have they demonstrated motivation?

Invariably you will ask the candidate how they heard about the job opportunity. If they were recommended by someone it might show they have networking skills. Ask questions that help you get a sense of the candidate's work ethic and gain more perspective about their record. Perhaps their grades were lower because they had to work to support themselves through school or because they juggled a terrific non-paid internship with a paid job on campus. Not all internships are created equal; some are required for class credit while others are undertaken through the student's own initiative. Also, gauge the quality of the internship experience by asking questions about the work performed in the internship, including specific projects.

3. What would you find if you Googled the candidate?

Many prospective employers perform online searches as part of the hiring process. In general I suggest employers be appropriately forgiving in this regard. If you see a major red flag, fine; but keep in mind that most employers want employees with normal social lives and that college students are used to living online. That said, online searches can help you better understand how applicants spend time online for professional purposes and how they would fit into your corporate culture. Is their college research or thesis searchable online? Have they posted to any relevant blogs? Do they participate in any chats? Do they visit or have membership in an online professional community? Who are they connected to on LinkedIn?

4. Does this job fit their career objectives?

Screening for career fit is important. Given the weakness in the job market, the class of 2010 will be more open to positions that veer off of their intended career path. If you're not trying to fill an immediate need and are hiring for longevity, the last thing you want is to hire someone who is not interested in your company or the industry long-term, and who has a good chance of switching fields when the employment market improves. Another opportunity to screen for career fit is when you are asking about their internship experiences - try to determine why the candidate chose a particular internship opportunity over another.

5. Where do mom and dad live?

At first glance I acknowledge this seems like a strange question. However I was intrigued with a recent survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) and wanted to share the information. The survey found that a job's proximity to their parents' home is a top consideration for new graduates. Many graduates leave college with sky-high debt from student loans and find it difficult to afford rent on their own in a city like Boston. In addition I have plenty of first-hand experience experiences hiring people with no roots in the Boston area who left to go back "home." In other cases, a candidate moves to Boston to be with a boyfriend or girlfriend; if that relationship does not last there is a pretty good chance your employee will move somewhere else. Be cautious with candidates who don't have roots in the area and ask questions to get an understanding of the candidate's motivating factors.

6. What are their salary/compensation requirements?

Asking about salary requirements is an expected question in the interview process. If you're spending time trying to hire the right person, you won't want to waste time with an offer they're not going to accept. Find out this number before you make the offer.

I hope these six questions make your next interview with a recent college graduate more productive and I'd like to hear what questions you find most useful with this candidate pool. Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at or (617) 250-1000.

Identity Crisis: Defining Your Employer Brand to Regain Success

Posted by Elaine Varelas April 1, 2010 07:00 AM

by Elaine Varelas,

Employer brands are powerful tools for organizations looking to set themselves apart from the competition. Many companies have based their recruitment, retention, and marketing initiatives on their brand.  A clear employer brand helps to give a company it's personality, and gives employees and company leaders the vocabulary to describe who they are and what they do.

Yet the economic woes of the past few years have caused many organizations to experience full-fledged identity crises. Just like a traumatic personal experience, such as a divorce, job loss, or illness can make people lose sight of or question who they are in this world, the economy has led many companies to a similar fate.

Cutbacks, lay-offs, and mergers made it virtually impossible for many companies to do business as they once did. Organizations built themselves (and their reputations) on a certain set of tenets and qualitiestheir employer brand. Their brand was how employers defined who they werefor themselves, clients, employees, customers, and recruits. Many organizations have found themselves no longer able to hold onto their brand under the added stress of the global financial meltdown. Not only did their businesses suffer as the economy took a nosedive, but their identities did as well.

The economic downturn affected companies—aand their employer brandsacross every region and industry. The financial services company with the most aggressive recruitment effort had a hiring freeze. The local hospital that offered the most comprehensive benefits package dropped some well-loved perks and asked employees to kick in for health insurance. The global organization that touted itself as the fasted growing tech company started hemorrhaging money.

As the very foundation of how companies operated began to slip away, many organizations kicked into survival mode. Company leadership was less concerned with employer brand than making sure their employees (and they) kept their jobs.

Now that we are starting to see an end to the economic fallout, how can HR managers recapture a brand that was lost? If the employer brand is how organizations define themselves and show their face to the world, what happens when that face now has running mascara, smeared lipstick, or a 5 o'clock shadow?

Having a well-defined employer brand can help a company keep a clear focus when developing recruitment and retention strategies, tweaking a mission statement, starting new culture initiatives, and creating overall business goals. Of course, once an identity crisis hits, it isn't just a matter of HR managers picking up where they left off. The employer brand may be vastly different from what it once was. Will your organization be reinforcing an obsolete brand, maintaining a current brand, or creating a new one?

HR managers should consult with company leaders to find the answers to these vital questions:
-How do we want to be known?

-How are we known currently (and how were we known pre-downturn)?

To find out how you are known now, do some research. Start with an employee survey, as current employees are a wealth of information. Also talk to recruiters, look at employee exit interviews, research the webcheck out blogs and the competition's sites, and speak with prospective employees (especially those who went elsewhere).

If the employer brand is the same as it was before, how will you maintain it? It is important to realize that the strategies and tactics that got you there in the past might not keep you there. You must also understand that your brand may evolveby choice or by circumstance. Your organization may not be able to be where it once was. It is acceptable to change your brand, but you need to be who you say you are. There must be consistency and authenticity between how the brand is defined and how it is played out within the organization.

For example, a law firm that touts a family-friendly culture, must live up to its promise. The organization should provide good benefits and flex-time, and host family-friendly events such as picnics and community service days. Conversely, attorneys shouldn't have to work around the clock (even if they are on the partner track) and the firm can't only offer unpaid maternity leave. Of course, if the brand is different because of the economy or if the firm just can't compete, it is okay to change as long as those changes are communicated. It is more important to be the organization you claim to be; you can't afford to be disingenuous in how you present your organization to the world.

If your organization's brand is changing, the new brand should support the goals of the company. It should also give the organization an edge to set it apart from the competition and move the business forward. It is counterproductive to reinforce an employer brand that is holding the company back from future growth.

An employer brand is a helpful tool in developing hiring, recruitment, retention, and growth initiatives. This is a great time to examine your organization's brand. After a tumultuous few years, there are bound to be changes to your brand definition or strategies. By focusing and redefining the organization's identity, HR managers can help reinvigorate the organization after a stagnant time and prepare it for focused growth.

Elaine Varelas is a Managing Partner for Keystone Partners, a Boston-based career management company.

The Workplace of the Future is Contingent

Posted by Aaron Green March 23, 2010 12:00 PM

Companies are likely to increase their use of contingent staff relative to permanent staff. Use of contingent staff has been on the rise for decades, and now the recession has impacted companies' workforce planning such that companies want the flexibility inherent with contingent staff. Labor law firm Littler Mendelson predicts that contingent labor could rise to as much as 30% to 50% of the U.S. workforce. When referring to contingent staff, I'm talking about all types:

  • Temporary employees hired through an agency
  • Temporary employees hired directly
  • Part-time employees
  • Outsourced jobs & outsourced functions
  • Retirees who return
  • Consultants/Freelancers/Independent Contractors
  • On-call workers

It's easy to see why contingent staffing is attractive to employers:

Flexibility - With increasing frequency, businesses today are finding they don't need a particular skill set on staff full-time, year-round. When they need the skill they hire someone on a contingent base, in a just-in-time type model. In a special report last fall, Workforce Management magazine compared the use of contingent staffing to working on a movie set where workers are grouped together by functional crews, brought in when they're needed, then disbanded when their project is finished. Business today is starting to look more like movie making in regard to how they staff.

Cost Savings - Even if the contingent staff member's wage is the same as a permanent staff member, cost savings can result because you are only employing the contingent staff when you absolutely need them. Therefore the company saves money by not carrying the salary during slow periods.

Reduced risk - Contingent staffing allows employers to "try before they buy" and evaluate performance and cultural fit before making a permanent staffing decision.

Access to a larger pool of candidates - Certain people with unique skill sets or hard-to-find work experience may only be available on a contingent basis.

Overcome uncertainty - Overstaffing can lead to diminished profitability and competitiveness and understaffed can mean missed opportunities for the business. Turning to contingent staffing solutions can help businesses get through periods of uncertainty.

As employers and HR managers re-think their business plans and staffing needs to meet new demands they'll be wise to reconsider the role contingent staffing can play in the organization.

Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions.  He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at or (617) 250-1000.

Plugging the Brain Drain

Posted by Elaine Varelas March 1, 2010 07:00 AM

by Elaine Varelas

Despite our best efforts as HR managers, the reality is that people leave organizations. While effective retention programs can reduce turnover and encourage longevity with a company, eventually people move on. Some may retire, get an offer from another organization, move out of state, or leave to raise families. In some cases, as in a reduction-in-force, or an M&A or restructuring, people may leave en masse.

HR managers are often charged with instituting strategies to retain employees. While this is the ideal option, it is not always possible to keep everyone onboard. While retention programs are cost-effective and worthwhile, HR managers must also prepare for employees’ ultimate departure.

When employees exit an organization, they don’t just leave behind an empty desk. They also take with them their knowledge of how they do their jobs, and more importantly, how they get things done. If HR managers don’t put systems in place to capture that knowledge, it can get sucked into a vast black hole, leaving the organization vulnerable. How can HR managers create a more seamless transition when there is job turnover and ensure that proprietary knowledge stays intact?

Document—It may seem logical to believe that a manager is the keeper of the proprietary knowledge within his or her group. In reality, though, managers may lead a team or department, but they don’t know everything about each individual job. Consider creating an “owner’s manual” for each position within a department that explains the job and the processes used to accomplish day-to-day and long-term tasks. This is important for executive-level positions, but also for entry-level posts. Imagine if your assistant left without an detailed explanation of files, programs, and contacts. You’d be lost (I know I would be)!

It is also imperative to document important correspondence, proposals, and plans. In the age of electronic media, it is easy to shoot off an email or text and then press “delete.” Important documents must be filed either in hard-copy or electronic format.

Make it a priority—One reason we don’t document our work is because we think it’s busywork. We have so much to do, we don’t want to waste our time documenting our work. But if Jim is the keeper of the spreadsheets for a department and Jim goes bye-bye, that will not only cost the organization time, but it may also cost dollars if deadlines or opportunities are missed. Employees can always find a more pressing matter that takes precedence over documenting work, so HR professionals need to educate managers about the value of the assignment so they can communicate it to their people—and give them the time they need to follow through.

Cross-train—Another way to make sure that critical knowledge isn’t lost when employees leave is to encourage “role hopping” within the company or departments. While employees shouldn’t be required to know everything about two or more jobs, multiple people should be trained to take on multiple tasks. This can also be helpful during extended absences for other reasons, such as illnesses or family leave.

Developing a mentor program is another way to promote a natural method for passing knowledge along. Mentor programs are also effective retention tools, for both the mentee and the mentor, which is an added bonus.

Create efficient processes—HR managers may also make the information that is available within the organization more accessible. How easy is it to retrieve a document in the company’s system? Is it possible to do a keyword search to find relevant information? Are like documents (proposals, spreadsheets) stored together in the same location? Are there templates for documents so there is consistency and uniformity within departments and throughout the organization? By making it easier to create or retrieve information, HR managers can help cut down on the practice of “reinventing the wheel,” ease frustration among employees (“Where is that plan we did last year?”), and improve efficiency.

Have a succession (or back-up) plan—As the Boy Scouts motto states, it is better to “be prepared.” If HR managers can anticipate losses and the fall-out from them, they can help put policies in place to minimize the effects of people leaving. Where is the organization at risk? Ask managers to look at their departments and identify the weak spots. Make sure that there are formalized procedures to follow so that managers can protect their people and their intellectual capital.

Flexibility is also important as some employees may request alternatives to the traditional workday. What can the organization do to keep people on? New parents may want a part-time schedule. Employees reaching retirement age may want to take a sabbatical or spend part of the year in a warmer climate. What is the organization willing and able to do to keep employees and their brain trust?

Be transparent—Some employees may be reluctant to share how they do their jobs for fear that the organization is trying to learn what they do in order to oust them in favor of someone less seasoned and less expensive. Make it clear to people that the process is about capturing knowledge and not about forcing people into an early retirement.

By putting systems in place to protect proprietary knowledge, HR managers can help organizations recover more quickly when employees leave. Losing employees is always difficult, but that loss shouldn’t be compounded by also losing the key knowledge needed to do the job.

Workforce Planning in an Uncertain Economy

Posted by Aaron Green February 25, 2010 02:00 PM

Workforce planning is a strategic response to changes in workforce demographics, business models and economic conditions.

There's no doubt that the current economy has wreaked havoc on some workforce plans and has made it difficult to conduct workforce planning for the future. However, it's in just such a climate that workforce planning is more necessary than ever.

My company, Professional Staffing Group (PSG), has been surveying our clients on their HR Planning over the past two quarters of this economic downturn. The latest survey results can be found on our web site.

Respondents have felt the impact of the current economy and its affect on their workforce planning. We've found that:

Uncertainty is prevalent: Employers have high levels of uncertainty regarding their 2010 staffing levels and hiring plans. When asked about anticipated changes in staffing levels, the most common response was "unknown." Many employees are uncertain about the future of their current jobs too. According to a Conference Board survey only 45 percent of workers are satisfied with their jobs.

Pay raises are not anticipated: 63 percent of respondents do not expect to raise pay in 2010; 35 percent expect small increases of 0-2%; and only 2 percent of respondents expect to give pay raises over 2%.

Employees have many concerns: the perceived level of employee concern is quite high in a number of areas: shrinkage of career opportunities (72% perceived their employees to have either a considerable or moderate level of concern); impact of economic downturn on organization (72% perceived their employees to have either a considerable or moderate level of concern); decrease in job security (68% perceived their employees to have either a considerable or moderate level of concern); and increased workload due to recent layoffs (47% perceived their employees to have either a considerable or moderate level of concern).

Employers have concerns too: the most common concerns are retention of top talent, employee engagement, staffing levels that are too low and recruiting top talent.

Spending is not expected to increase: HR budgets were cut drastically in 2009, but employers expect to keep those levels intact for now. Training and Development is the one area that may see a spending increase in the short term.
In summary, there's a lot of stress on Human Resource professionals' efforts to recruit, retain and motivate the workforce, and it's difficult to predict long-term supply and demand.

My first recommendation is to take on the uncertainty by considering these three questions:
1. Where do we have clarity or minimal uncertainty?
2. Where do we have a degree of certainty but many things are unknown?
3. Where are we relying simply on best guesses?

Steps Toward Better Workforce Planning
Once you've outlined the uncertainty it's possible to reduce its impact through strong communication. I recommend involving your entire organization and communicating your three categories of (un)certainty with your employees. Also communicate the possible scenarios for handling the uncertainties and how employees could be impacted. Through this exercise you will also create benchmarking and milestone opportunities.

Our recent survey also found that uncertainty over rates of attrition, turnover and retention is a major HR challenge in 2010. In fact, staffing is the most uncertain area for HR right now. Thirty-one percent of the survey respondents don't know what their staffing level changes will be in 2010 and 29 percent don't foresee a change. Thirty percent of the respondents anticipate increasing headcount in 2010 but are almost equally divided on which quarter that hiring will occur.

One way to mitigate this uncertainty is to utilize flexible staffing. Flexible staffing can include: temporary employees hired through an agency or directly, part-time employees, independent contractors, retirees who return to work, consultants/freelancers/contractors, on-call workers or outsourced employees.
In a recent special report on contingent staffing, Workforce Magazine reported that 73 percent of employers in a recent study said they anticipate some level of increase in their contingent workforce by late 2010, with nearly 35 percent planning increases of 50 percent or more. Workforce also wrote that the labor law firm Littler Mendelson predicts that contingent labor could rise to as much as 30 to 50 percent of the entire U.S. workforce, triple the average of 13 percent that a Staffing Industry Analysts survey estimated it to be in 2008.

Headcount and talent are two key elements in workforce planning and looking at both will help you determine where your workforce gaps are. Smart HR managers evaluate their current workforce, as well as the talent that is becoming available and the expertise that is leaving, to understand where the gaps are, or in some cases, where they are likely to be in the future. You can then work on filling the gaps with recruiting, retention, motivation, succession planning and contingent staffing efforts.

No matter what you think the current economy dictates to your business, retention always matters. Unmanaged attrition can be disastrous to your organizational health. For example, if a company loses employees primarily from the bottom rungs of the organization, it could wind up with a disproportionately older workforce than it had before. In contrast, if it loses employees primarily from the middle, it could lose an important cadre of skills and future leadership. If it loses primarily older workers, it could be losing considerable experience and knowledge.

The most popular recruiting and retention strategies among Boston HR managers who were surveyed are to invest in low-cost training, change recruiting focus, develop a succession plan and develop a new talent management plan.

Don't let the uncertainty of today's economy prevent you from making smart investments in workforce planning for the future. Instead, think about how you can use uncertainty to your advantage. Start by preparing multiple view scenarios for the future that include your relative certainties and uncertainties (the three categories), review your projections and periodically update them. Doing so will ensure that your organization is best positioned to succeed through demographic change and economic uncertainty.

Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at or (617) 250-1000.

Ten in Ten: Ten Things That Changed HR This Decade

Posted by Elaine Varelas February 1, 2010 05:21 PM

By Elaine Varelas

Is it just me, or did the decade whiz by? It can’t be ten years already since the Y2K scare, yet I can’t remember life before reality TV, crocs, and iPods. Over this last decade, there have been countless changes to the business world: advancements in technology and cultural shifts have transformed the way we work. Here are the top ten developments that changed how HR managers do their jobs:

Seat at the leadership table—In the year 2000, HR professionals were fighting for a spot at the leadership table, as they tried to prove that workforce issues are one of the most important components of any business’ success. The issue has finally been resolved, as research and financial evidence verified that the most competitive and innovative companies have an effective HR presence on the leadership team.

Google—Google and other search engines have made millions of gigabytes of information available to us with just the click of a mouse. HR managers can now gather information about a candidate, fact-check a resume, peruse the competition’s job listings, and keep informed about what is happening in any industry—all within minutes. This vast database of information also poses some challenges as people’s work and personal lives become increasingly digital—and accessible. HR managers may now be saddled with handling a damaging blog posted by a disgruntled former employee, an embarrassing lawsuit from years ago that surfaces in a Web search, or the fall-out from discovering compromising photos of that “star” candidate.

Multitasking—Multitasking seems to be dominating how we work, so much so that doing one thing at a time seems almost lazy! It isn’t uncommon for many of us to be emailing a client, speaking on the phone with our boss, reading a text message from our spouse, and eating lunch all at the same time. When we try to do so much at once, we have to be even more diligent about errors (Did I just send my grocery list to my client?)

Smart phones—Smart phones are one of the prime catalysts for our multitasking ways. We can now access email, texts, calendars, photos, video, and files all from our phones. This technology helps us stay connected 24/7, and allows immediate communication. Of course it is also starting to blur the line between work and private time—and creating some HR dilemmas: Are employees expected to be “on call” after business hours? How quickly do managers expect to get a response to a message? What are the policies about using company equipment for personal use, or conducting personal business on company time?

Social Networking Sites—Websites like LinkedIn and Facebook have made it more convenient to connect with friends and colleagues and build a network. These sites have created a new avenue for recruitment, and an additional way for teams and colleagues to stay connected. They have also led to the further mucking-up of the line between work and personal time, and can present some quandaries: Should employees “friend” their managers or clients on Facebook? Is creating a LinkedIn profile a personal or professional endeavor?

Security—It used to be that the word “security” only referred to job security. Since 9/11, that has changed. Organizations now need to ensure their employees’ safety; when they travel, in the office building, and by making sure their personal information is protected on the company’s servers.

Paperless recruitment—Green is no longer just a color, but a movement. As organizations look to reduce, reuse, and recycle, many offices are going paperless. Resumes are now emailed (no more paper cuts!) and interviews are set-up via email. The recruitment effort has also gone multimedia: want ads in newspapers and magazines are being replaced by online job boards, TV channels devoted to job seekers, and networking websites.

Meeting technology—Meeting software, such as GoToMeeting, and webinars allows for people in disparate locations to gather for meetings or seminars via computer. Companies can now have a global presence without constant travel.

Heath care benefits—As health insurance costs skyrocket, many organizations have cut back on what they can offer employees. In the past, most employees and their families received extensive health coverage at no cost or for a nominal fee. Today, many organizations offer fewer health benefits (and some offer none), don’t extend coverage to employees’ families, or have asked employees to kick in a larger portion of the cost.

Texting—Once the domain of teenagers, texting has become a viable way of communicating with candidates, especially those who are employed. HR managers can schedule interviews, request information, or confirm meetings during the workday by accessing a candidate’s personal phone.

Many of the developments of the last decade present enormous opportunity for pioneering new ways of doing business, staying connected to one another, and recruiting new employees. Some of the progress we’ve made also creates challenges, such as sticky situations that may arise as the line between work and private time blurs. It is more important than ever for HR professionals to work with company leaders and develop policies, set boundaries, educate managers, and communicate to employees. HR managers need to stay ahead of these developments. After all, who knows what exciting changes this new decade may bring?

Cost Effective Recruiting

Posted by Aaron Green January 25, 2010 09:00 AM

These are interesting times for human resources professionals who are tasked with recruiting. During the recession many organizations deeply cut their human resources and recruiting budgets; organizations that were not hiring new staff enjoyed a short-term cost savings as a result of these cuts. However, now an increasing number of organizations are finding they do need to hire new staff, as employees are needed to replace those lost to attrition and upturns in business are creating a need to add staff.

Many companies are now finding they lack staff and resources to recruit needed employees. Recruiters are caught in the middle and are being asked to do more with less. Here are my suggestions for successful recruiting on a tight budget:

Build an Employment Brand
Coordinate with your marketing resources to promote your organization as a positive environment for employees so that candidates and prospects will already be 'warmed up' and interested in coming to work with you. Cost-effective ways to do this include building your web presence (the HR page on your company's main web site, a Facebook Fan page, and Twitter, for example), nominating your company for awards such as Best Places to Work contests, being involved in community events, and making yourself available for PR efforts so your messages can be communicated via the media. Having interested candidates contact your company is obviously the most cost effective way to recruit; the challenge is earning the reputation that puts your company in that position.

Utilize your Current Workforce
If your professional recruiting resources are limited, deputize other employees and have them participate in recruiting efforts. Referral bonuses and other financial incentives for bringing in candidates and/or signing new employees will motivate your employees to become involved in your company's recruiting efforts. Involving co-workers in awareness campaigns and giving them incentive to do so is a cost-effective way to recruit and build morale at the same time.

Spread the Word
Let people know you're hiring and what they can specifically do to help. Cost-effective ways to do this include updating your company web site and email signatures with links to details on open positions, and letting customers, suppliers, partners and others know what positions you have open. Be as specific as possible; telling them "we're hiring" is not as effective as saying "we need a chemical engineer with 8-10 years experience." You'd be surprised at how word travels.

Network, Network, Network
Identify the professional associations, affinity groups, and other industry events and groups that are most important to your organization (and for what reasons) and then make sure you are properly and consistently represented in those groups. By way of example, if you are looking for an accountant, you could contact the Massachusetts Society of CPAs and the Boston Chapter of the Association of Latino Professionals in Accounting and Finance. Not only will this help you build a candidate pipeline but it can also help you spread the word about open positions faster and more effectively.

Try Alternative Job Boards
While the major job boards like Monster and Careerbuilder can be effective, they are also expensive. If your budget is tight, look into free and low-cost alternatives. Some reputable alternatives include Craigslist and Google Base. Local papers will often also have an inexpensive job posting section in their online edition. Social networking sites such as TweetMyJobs and business networking sites like LinkedIn have also become increasingly popular as alternatives to job boards. In addition to having a LinkedIn company page that can build your brand and advertise jobs, recruiters can search profiles within their network to discover potential candidates they might already be connected to. Joining groups within these social and business networking sites also allows you to advertise your openings for free via discussion boards. Leverage other online networks and community sites that specialize in your industry or in the career specialty that you want to recruit, including diversity organizations that assist job seekers. If you are seeking entry level or part time candidates, reaching out to local colleges that will often have resources to help their students connect to employers (such as job boards on their websites or career centers), is often a free and easy way to find candidates.

Staffing Firms
While utilizing staffing firms costs money, they can be a cost effective solution in many instances. If you have limited resources and time, paying a staffing firm for a successful contingency search can be less expensive than the alternative. If you don't have an up-to-date network/candidate pool it can be quite costly in time and opportunity cost to start a search from scratch.

In addition, staffing firms can typically provide temporary employees or short notice as well as temp-to-hire candidates that you can test out prior to making a decision and/or while you look for a permanent hire.

Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO)
If you have a large number of similar positions to fill, RPO (Recruitment Process Outsourcing) could be a cost-effective option. RPO means transferring all or part of your recruitment activities to an external vendor. Those recruiting activities can include sourcing, screening, testing, interviewing, background checks, coordinating offer letters, and orientation. The RPO provider is an outsourced recruiting department equipped with a package of skills, tools, technologies and activities. With RPO, you avoid paying an agency for each search and you get access to more and better resources than you could likely afford by doing it yourself.

The above-mentioned tactics work in any economy, and will be useful to any of my fellow recruiters who strive to maintain quality hiring practices on a limited budget.

Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group  and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at or (617) 250-1000.

Pay It Forward: Resolutions to Improve Your Organization

Posted by Elaine Varelas January 4, 2010 06:00 AM

By Elaine Varelas

Last month we talked about becoming a better and more effective HR manager: concrete steps you can take to enhance your skills, improve your career, and increase your value to your organization. This month, the focus is on the organization. What resolutions can you make to improve the HR function at your company? After all, isn’t the essence an HR manager’s role to create an office life that is more efficient, productive, cohesive, and enjoyable for everyone?

Here are some office resolutions HR managers may be able to address in their organizations:

Identify and diffuse the biggest aggravators—What is it at your organization that drives everyone crazy? Is the wireless server always down? Is the printer in a constant state of jam? Does the elevator have a chronic case of “Out of Order?” Oftentimes, the things at work that get us frustrated and snappy with others are relatively minor—and easy to remedy. In fact, learning that your bonus will only be 3% instead of 5% can actually be less irritating than knowing you need to fill out a form in triplicate each time you want to take a personal day. It is the breakdown in technology, processes, and systems that can get us steamed and cause a ripple-effect of anger or unease throughout the organization. Identify those aggravators within your organization and work to rectify them.

Solve problems through partnership—As Americans we have a long, proud history of conflict (the Revolution, Civil War, divorce court) and competition (sports, politics, preschools). We are so used to looking at the world in terms of right and wrong and winner and loser, that we sometimes lose sight of solving our problems. At the start of a new year, many of us are filled with hope in the promise of what’s to come. It’s an excellent time to harness that positive energy to resolve to address conflicts in a more effective and peaceful way. Before you whip out the incense and start piping New Age music through the corporate sound system, look at partnering to solve problems from a business perspective. What will take less time and fewer resources? What will leave employees, clients, and customers feeling like they were dealt with fairly? What is the end goal: to determine who is right or to resolve the issue? Every interaction should have a focus on partnership. Make sure managers have the training to follow through.

Encourage employees to strive for their “personal best”When runners cross the starting line at the Boston Marathon in a few months, most won’t be trying to win the race. Instead, they’ll be attempting to beat their own personal record. What is each person’s highest potential? Ask employees to think about what they want out of their jobs and the organization. You may have a few people who want to win the race (break into the C suite), finish strong (become a star manager) or walk a 5K (satisfied to keep producing in their current jobs). Push people to find their own personal best and work towards those goals.

Have managers define their style—Many managers are so busy doing their jobs, they don’t realize how they do their jobs—or they think they are a certain kind of manager, but their direct reports would disagree. Ask managers to define their management style. Are they collegial? Controlling? Delegating? Micromanaging? How do they want to manage, and what changes, if any, do they need to make to be the managers they want to be?

Instill curiosity—Just as “Question Authority” was a popular bumper sticker in the 1970s, adopt “Instill Curiosity” as your HR mantra for 2010. One way to get people excited about their jobs is by encouraging them to learn about how it all works, and how their role impacts the entire organization. Do people at your company see themselves as just another cog in the wheel or is their contribution to the whole apparent? What can you do as an HR manager to help employees see how they fit into the larger workings of the company? Are the systems and processes easy for everyone to understand? Is communication frequent and honest? How else can you instill curiosity?

Encourage transparent leadership—It is almost impossible for employees to follow their curiosity within an organization if the leadership team is inaccessible and taciturn. Meet with leadership to determine how they want to be known. They may express a desire for an open leadership style, but their actions must match up. Closed-door meetings and off-limits financial sheets may lead employees to believe their company leaders have something to hide. A leadership team striving for transparency must share information with employees and ask for feedback. Work with your leaders to help them reach their desired leadership style.

As 2010 begins, resolve to make work a better place for employees. With these changes, you can make a happy New Year for all employees.


Looking Ahead: Top Challenges for HR in 2010

Posted by Aaron Green December 21, 2009 05:00 PM

Looking ahead to 2010, here's what I am hearing from HR professionals about what will be the top staffing challenges in the year to come:

1. Retention
Even if they aren't happy in their jobs, many employees have been sticking around and riding out the recession. There are reasons employees have stayed put: they fear that being the "last one in" at a new company means they'll be the "first to go" if that employer has to make job cuts, they may be concerned about the financial stability of a prospective employer, and there's a general attitude that the "devil you know beats the devil you don't" mentality. Once the employment climate improves, many employees will look to leave their jobs. This pent up desire to leave will create real problems for employers who don't manage properly. HR and senior management teams should have their retention plans and hiring plans in place now to combat the challenges this issue will present in 2010.

2. Doing more with less
Many organizations have cut their HR budgets substantially. As companies start to grow again, there are simply fewer resources to handle HR duties. Already, some Human Resources teams are overwhelmed with the process of finding new employees - they just don't have the staff to handle the workload required to properly recruit, screen and hire while keeping up with other key HR priorities.

3. Changes in Benefits
In response to the recession and the financial pressures it brought, many companies cut employee benefits in 2009 which resulted in some bad will among employees. As employees assess benefits in 2010 they will be reminded of the benefit cuts. HR professionals will need to be actively involved in managing benefits, communicating with employees to minimize bad will, and looking for new and creative ways to improve their company's benefits package in a cost effective way.

4. A tightening labor market for certain positions
Recent reports cite Boston as among the best cities for managerial-level job seekers. In fact, although the national unemployment rate is about 10 percent, the unemployment rate for workers with a college degree is about half that. Recruiters and hiring managers who are looking for mid-career level professional talent have a closing window of opportunity to hire before facing decreased candidate availability.

5. Speed to hire
Before the recession better companies were conditioned to respond quickly to desirable candidates. To beat the competition they had the right mindset and the right systems to prevent top prospects from slipping away. Over the past year, organizations that were hiring had the luxury of not having to move quickly and could draw out the hiring process. In 2010 companies will need to move more quickly in order to land the best candidates, as highly qualified candidates are beginning to have employment choices again.

6. Promoting from within
For many companies the recession created a situation where there were less promotion opportunities. Employees were willing to accept the fate of a slower career path because they wanted to be a team player and help the company, or maybe they were simply happy to keep their job during a nasty recession. In 2010, with economic conditions improved, employees who are ready will be anxious to be promoted. Better employers will be focusing on performance assessments to see who's ready to move up and will be preparing employees with feedback on what they need to do to get promoted. Get the conversation going - talking about their future with the company helps employees feel more engaged and contributes to retention efforts.

7. Flexibility
While change is a constant in the world today, 2009 was by any standard an exceptional year for human resource professionals. For many organizations 2010 will bring just as much change. For companies that made adjustments to restore or ensure financial stability, that change may take the form of new initiatives to support growth or adapt to the newly shaped organization. Some companies may still require strategic organizational changes or cost cutting in order to compete. To excel in 2010, HR will need flexibility; plans developed at the beginning of the year might need to change quickly to capitalize on opportunities that avail themselves during the year.

Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group  and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at (617) 250-1000.

New Year, New and Improved You: How to be a Better HR Manager

Posted by Elaine Varelas December 1, 2009 08:56 AM

By Elaine Varelas

December is here and 2009 is coming to a close (hold your applause, please!). While many of us are eagerly awaiting the end of this tumultuous year, there is no guarantee that a flip of the calendar will miraculously change the state of the economy. In fact, the New Year can stir up some additional anxieties. Many of us are asking, “What will next year hold? Will my company still be here in 2011? Will my job survive the year? While we don’t have influence over the global marketplace and can’t control all the issues that plague our organizations, there are some things we do have power over. We can control our professional development. We can become better at our jobs, stronger in our industries, and even more indispensible to our organizations. For the New Year, resolve to be a better HR manager. Here are six strategies for starting your New Year off right:


HR Strategies for a Challenging Economy

Posted by Aaron Green November 16, 2009 05:00 PM

There's no question that the past year has presented plenty of challenges to Boston's human resources professionals. Recently my firm, Professional Staffing Group, received survey responses from more than 100 Boston organizations across 13 different industry groups about their human resources planning for the remainder of this year. The responses were a mixed bag with some organizations moving forward with recruiting, hiring, rewards and retention practices and other organizations remaining hunkered down.

We asked respondents whether they planned to make any changes in the way they reward, retain, and recruit employees in light of the current economic conditions.


I’m Thankful (I Think): Promoting Positivity in the Workplace During Shaky Times

Posted by Elaine Varelas November 1, 2009 10:00 AM

By Elaine Varelas

Thanksgiving is only a few weeks away, yet many of us are struggling to find reasons to be thankful. The economy has us feeling stressed and worn out. Yes, we’re all thankful to have jobs, but the worries brought on by the economy can be overwhelming. With the holidays quickly approaching, many people are getting anxious about the expenses of the season (gifts, parties, travel, oh my!) And we haven’t even mentioned the looming flu season, which is predicted to be one of the most aggressive yet. It’s no wonder employees are feeling a little down at work.

While there isn’t a way to seal off the building to make sure negative thoughts or feelings don’t sneak in, HR managers can curb negativity so that it doesn’t take over the workplace and undermine productivity. It is possible to keep people positive without piping endorphins through the ventilation system


Getting the Most Value from your Staffing Firm

Posted by Aaron Green October 21, 2009 05:30 PM

I've been writing lately about how staffing firms can help your business in this economic climate. I've also written on Finding and Selecting a Staffing Agency. This article provides tips for maximizing the value you get from your staffing firm.


Trick or Treat? Discerning Fact from Fiction on Resumes

Posted by Elaine Varelas October 1, 2009 04:00 AM

By Elaine Varelas, October 1, 2009

We’ve all been there. We have that one last position to hire for, and despite sifting through what seems like a MILLION resumes, not one candidate’s qualifications seem to be a good fit. Then, all of a sudden, there it is among the papers destined for the recycle bin, almost as if it is being surrounded by a halo of light (cue the heavenly music here). There is that one perfect resume; the right match of education, skills, and experience, and YES, a salary requirement way below what you were expecting to pay. But before you rush through that phone interview and set up face-to-face meetings with the CEO and all five vice presidents, wait! Like our mothers always said, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

In a down economy HR managers may only be trying to fill a handful of positions, but they are still getting bombarded with resumes—as many as thousands for each position. With jobless rates approaching 10% nationwide, if people aren’t qualified for a post or don’t have suitable experience, they may send along a resume anyway. HR managers are left to weed through countless inappropriate resumes to get to the one or two that may be worth a second look. At the same time, HR managers are under increasing pressure to make every hire count.

Some candidates, in their desperation to land a job, may also be stretching the truth a bit on their resumes. HR managers must be able to peruse resumes and determine what’s fact and what’s fiction. Look out for these common exaggerations to avoid wasting time chasing after that “imaginary star employee.”

Time warp—This resume shows a candidate jumping from freshman year in college to CEO in a 6-year span. Watch out for unusual leaps in education or work experience. Also pay attention to a high number of jobs in a short period of time or big gaps in work history.

Show me the money—Be wary if the salary requirements don’t match up with the purported level of experience. Some people hope to get an HR manager’s attention by inflating their experience and keeping their salary request true to their current level, or giving themselves a significant cut in pay to get in the door.

Master of none—People who say they are experts in all areas of business (finance, management, marketing, IT) probably haven’t mastered any.

Do as you say, not as you do—If a resume boasts that a person is an expert in technology, the resume should include an email address and a LinkedIn profile, not just a landline and fax number. Resumes that state that people have led teams and projects, but the job titles don’t say “management” should also raise red flags.

Beware of resumes bearing gifts—If the resume is attached to an expensive gift basket, or tickets to a hot event, the giver may be trying to distract you from the resume’s content (and hope that you’ll feel indebted enough to at least call for a phone interview).

These are some of the more apparent examples, but how can you protect yourself against less obvious deceptions? The resume may look good, but before you invest your time and effort at the interview stage, do a little fact-checking of your own. It’s possible to get a better idea of people’s backgrounds, experience, and level of advancement without even talking to them. Here’s how:

Six degrees of separation—How did this person get to you? Was the resume forwarded by a colleague or employee, or is it in response to an ad? Resumes that landed on your desk through a reference should hold more weight than those that arrived “cold.”

Be a cybersleuth—Go online and do a search for the person’s name. You can use a search engine like Google or a web-based research site such as Zoominfo. You can also see if the candidate has a LinkedIn profile or a presence on another social networking site.

Missing Link?—If candidates do have LinkedIn profiles, examine them closely. Do you know any of their contacts? Do their connections have job titles similar to what they are seeking at your organization? For example, if the candidate is applying for a CFO post, their contacts should be other executive-level people, not just assistants and junior professionals.

Match game—Once you’ve completed your online research, compare that information to what was provided by the candidate. Does it match up? If there are several discrepancies, that person may be bluffing.

Just ask—If the candidate was referred by a colleague or employee, contact that person to get additional information. You can also utilize your LinkedIn connections to see if any of your contacts overlaps.

It’s a competitive market, so people are using attention-getting maneuvers to get noticed (yes, even stretching the truth). Be sure to do your due diligence so that you can be confident that the person who eats up your time (and your team’s time) is the person represented on paper, and that the resume is not a deceptive, albeit attractive mask.

Finding and Selecting a Staffing Firm

Posted by Aaron Green September 21, 2009 06:56 AM

Last month I wrote about how staffing firms can help you weather the recession and prepare for employment recovery. This month I'll provide some tips on finding and selecting a staffing agency that is best suited to your needs.


Shoot for the Stars: Implement a “Star” Strategy to Ensure Organizational Success

Posted by Elaine Varelas September 7, 2009 06:00 AM

By Elaine Varelas, 09/07/09

Gazing up at the sky on a clear night can give you an appreciation for stars. It almost looks as if they were strategically placed, and they shine even brighter because they are offset against the dark nighttime sky.

As an HR manager, you can think about the “stars” in your organization in a similar fashion. If you are deliberate in choosing and placing your top talent within the organization, those people will also shine and create a more brilliant overall organization.

When you look at developing strategies for recruiting and retaining stars, you will of course be looking at people, not celestial bodies. And when you do, you shouldn’t begin by asking, “Who do we need?’” you should first ask, “Where do we need our stars?”.

It isn’t realistic or economical to have a goal of filling every post in a company with a star. It wouldn’t even be a sound strategy if money were no object: those with star-potential would easily become bored in some entry-level positions, and would leave the organization in search of a more challenging role. Managing the resulting turnover would be a nightmare! And just as stars would be unfulfilled in certain positions, there are many working people who just don’t want to be stars! They are looking for stability, security, or even good health insurance and two-weeks of paid vacation. What they don’t want from work, is a high-stress job.

Instead of looking to crowd an organization with stars in every post, HR managers should direct leadership teams to consider where top talent is most needed. If you can’t have superstars everywhere, where does it make sense to have them? In what posts will high-potential people have the most impact? Of course, organizations want to have the best talent, but it is more important to have the best talent in the best spot.

The identified positions will be different for every organization, even those in similar industries. For example, a high-end hotel chain may focus on hiring friendly and knowledgeable concierges, while budget hotels may need speedy, efficient housekeepers. The needs of a company will also evolve over time. A role that is vital in a troubled organization may not be as important during more stable times. The positions where stars are required are also not always C-suite jobs. An organization may have a need in a mid-level post. There are also, most likely, positions within the company where it just won’t matter if you replace an average performer with a star, so these key positions must be identified with care.

Once the leadership team identifies the most crucial positions, HR managers can help the team define the role. Why is this position important? How does it align with the company’s vision and long and short-termed business goals? What skills and experience are needed to properly fill this post? What will this person “look like” on paper and in person? Defining the position will help organization pinpoint the right people for the job—and can alter the recruitment and retention strategies. An organization that is poised for a turnaround might need a CFO who has helped pull other companies from the brink of bankruptcy, but that experience might not be necessary in a company that is steadily growing by 5% each year.

Once you start looking for the people to fill the roles, beware of the “shooting star.” This person might look glorious on paper (“I’ve never seen such an impressive resume!”), but if the experience and skills don’t match what is required for a top position, that “star” may just fizzle out at your organization. This is especially important during lean fiscal times when every hire counts.

Some of an organization’s needs may be filled by looking at the people already employed at the company. Make sure managers within the organization know which positions you want to fill and what type of people you want to fill them, and help them to determine who, if anyone, on their teams may be a good fit. Managers should also be schooled on how to identify potentials and high-potentials so HR managers can work to develop this next generation of superstars.

There is a well-known business mantra that states that an organization needs, “the right people in the right place at the right time.” But by focusing first on positions and finding those people who will best meet the needs of the organization and have the greatest impact, HR managers can ensure that they have “exceptional people in the right positions at the right time.”

Elaine Varelas is Managing Partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm headquartered in Boston, and has over 20 years of career development and HR experience. She also serves on the board of directors for Career Partners International, the world's largest career management partnership. E-mail her at

Preparing for the Recession's End with the Help of Staffing Agencies

Posted by Aaron Green August 17, 2009 11:16 AM

Most economists are now saying the economic recovery has begun and the recession may even be over. At my staffing firm, Professional Staffing Group, we have seen a noticeable uptick in hiring of temporary employees by our clients over the past couple of months, and even more hiring is forecasted by clients. Historically in past economic recoveries, hiring of temporary employees precedes general hiring, and temp hiring is often viewed as a leading indicator of the overall employment market.


Three Ways Social Media is Influencing HR Today

Posted by Aaron Green July 20, 2009 04:50 PM

Whether you love it or loathe it, use it or overlook it, social media is a part of our everyday life. For employers and HR managers, social media can be a powerful tool for communicating, researching and interacting with employees, job candidates, customers and the general public. Are you leveraging social media to the fullest in your recruiting, hiring and reputation management efforts?


Performance Management During Hard Times

Posted by Elaine Varelas July 6, 2009 08:40 AM

The term performance management has developed a bad reputation. When people hear the phrase, they picture iron-fisted leadership teams squeezing all they can from employees without giving them the tools, time, or guidance to meet their deadlines and goals. Many employees also dread performance review time. The process can feel like a game of “Gotcha!” where managers breeze over what is accomplished and focus on the long list of “didn’t dos” (all with a satisfied, perverse smile on their faces). But many managers would also rather avoid those contentious meetings, especially at a time when the economy doesn’t allow for much wiggle room to reward outstanding work, or to provide the training or development employees need to do their jobs well.

Yet, managing to performance becomes an even more prominent issue during lean times. When companies are flush with capital and growing at a steady pace, they can afford to keep all of their employees—even those who aren’t top-performers. Healthy organizations, subsisting in a vibrant economic landscape, can support under-performers and absorbs their costs. When the economy tanks and cash flow gets tighter, however, organizations must depend on each of their employees to deliver 100%.

Of course, performance management doesn’t have to mean selectively letting go of those people or workgroups who consistently don’t measure up. Performance management strategies can be utilized to help transform under-performers into wholly productive employees.

Performance management can be likened to taking care of your car. Your vehicle will only keep running at its best with regular maintenance. You don’t punish a car when it starts to act sluggish; instead you give it the parts and service it needs to reach peak performance: an oil change, transmission fluid, a tire rotation, or new brake pads.

Similarly, performance management programs also require maintenance. Managers need to look at their teams. How are they successful? Where are there performance issues? What obstacles are in the way of reaching top performance? Managers must meet regularly with members of their teams to set expectations, outline goals, develop a timetable for review, and create an opportunity for feedback. Ideally, the goals and timelines will be so clear that employees will be able to write their own reviews—thus eliminating surprises—or the dreaded game of “Gotcha!”

Employee should be encouraged to be honest about what they need to reach their milestones, and what is standing in their way. In turn, managers must be willing and empowered to help remove those obstacles. They need to work with their teams to determine what is keeping employees from accomplishing their goals and finishing projects on time, and work to solve those issues. Some things may be easy to fix: a new sales person may be struggling because she is still waiting on business cards or another employee may need to trade in his desktop for a laptop so he can be more flexible about where and when he works. Other success-blockers may be more challenging, such as a mainframe that continually crashes during working hours, or a conflict between an employee and a superior. Regardless of the impediment to achieving their goals, employees need to feel that their managers are prepared to give them what they need to be successful.

By involving employees at the start of the performance review process and asking for their input, managers can ensure employee buy-in and accountability. This strategy can also take the stress and anxiety out of performance review meetings, since the outcomes are agreed upon ahead of time, and eliminate excuses (i.e. “I never got Excel installed on my laptop, so I couldn’t work on these spreadsheets at home!”). Employees can also feel confident that they have some control over the process. Instead of walking into a performance review meeting not knowing what to expect, employees can use the opportunity to garner constructive feedback, pinpoint development opportunities, and work on building their careers.

Performance management practices can also help identify those employees who continue to under-perform. If after meeting with their managers, discussing expectations, and being supported with the tools they need to do their jobs well, employees still come up short, the organization may need to act. Organizations can only invest so much in people who don’t return the investment, and it isn’t fair to the rest of the team to carry a person who isn’t a good fit.

Of course, a sound performance review strategy will assure that a majority of people will become top-performers. By taking a proactive approach to performance management, organizations can help employees feel more invested in their work and excited about their jobs so they will want to be more productive for themselves and their organizations.

Hiring Challenges During High Unemployment

Posted by Aaron Green June 15, 2009 10:18 AM

Although the country is in the midst of a recession and the unemployment rate as I write this blog is at 9.4 percent, with 14.5 million people unemployed, recruiters and hiring managers are not strolling down easy-street. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are approximately 3 million jobs that employers are actively recruiting for but are so far unable to fill. And, although the unemployment rate has increased substantially, the number of unfilled jobs has essentially stayed the same since the beginning of the recession.


Innovation or Repetition: The Cyclicality of HR Practices

Posted by Elaine Varelas June 1, 2009 08:24 AM

Innovation or Repetition: The Cyclicality of HR Practices
By Elaine Varelas, June 1, 2009

If you’ve found yourself avoiding the nightly news and averting your eyes from the daily headlines, you are not alone. Yes, the economic forecast is dire, and we are being bombarded with messages of doom and gloom. Unfortunately, we can’t beam ourselves into the future, post-recession, where everyone is happily employed and making money again. We have to live through the downturn until the economy picks up.

If you can’t take one more ounce of bad news about the economy, here is a glimmer of hope: desperation can breed ingenuity. Some of the best ideas have come at the most hopeless times. In fact, many of America’s most famous products were invented during the Great Depression. Scotch tape, baby food, Polaroid pictures, and chocolate chip cookies were all conceived during an era when there wasn’t money to pour into R&D, focus groups, or pilot programs. The good news is that despite the ominous economic predictions—or maybe because of them—we get creative.

What innovations will come out of this recession? What advances will happen at your company? Take a look at your organization’s HR strategies and practices. How are they determined? At many organizations, programs and services are cut or added depending on availability of funds. While this is sometimes unavoidable, basing business decisions solely on cash flow creates a more reactionary approach to planning. It doesn’t allow for vision, inspiration, or a long-term view. The uncertain economy may be forcing companies to make some tough decisions, but it is important that organizations not just have a knee-jerk reaction to economic forces. This is not the first time we’ve weathered a recession and it won’t be the last. The ebb and flow of the economic cycle is a natural part of business.

When it comes to planning and strategy, many of us get stuck in a rut. We do something one way because we’ve always done it that way. Or we flip back and forth between what we’re doing now, and what we did in the past (centralize then decentralize; outsource and then back in-house; report to HR, then report to the business unit). While there are important lessons to be learned from the past, recycling an old method to address a new challenge may not always be the best option.

If the current way isn’t working and the old way isn’t much better, there must be room for fresh ideas. How can organizations discover what that new way will be? If necessity is the mother of invention, we should be seeing some whoppers of inventions these days! Never before have we needed to be more efficient by finding ways to cut costs while providing exceptional service, and doing more with fewer resources. What widget will help us do what we do better?

If ingenuity and creative thinking are the ways to gain a competitive edge in a stilted economy, how does your organization fare? Is there room in the organization for innovation? Are ideas (even seemingly outlandish or impossible ones) rewarded or squashed? Are people encouraged to think differently? Or do people get stones thrown at them for suggesting a new way? It may be the unconventional or counterintuitive idea that will be the breakthrough strategy for an organization to get ahead. HR managers should look at their teams and systems for evidence of this kind of creativity, and continuous improvement. They also need to look to the leadership team. Does leadership foster an environment where new ideas are welcomed and rewarded?

Sometimes innovation happens by trial and error. Ruth Wakefield, the inventor of the chocolate chip cookie, ran out of bakers chocolate for her recipe and substituted a chopped-up semi sweet chocolate bar. It didn’t melt like it’s chocolate cousin, and one of America’s favorite sweet treats was born. Are your employees encouraged to take chances and try new ways of doing things?

It can be risky to encourage innovation, especially when resources are tight. It is important to step out of the current crisis and look ahead. What may be a short-term loss could prove profitable over time. By fostering an environment where innovation is encouraged, you organization’s HR function can help promote success today and in the future.

Most of us can’t imagine wrapping a gift without scotch tape or feeding an infant without jarred baby food. We take these inventions for granted. The advances of today will also become ingrained in our everyday lives. What will that invention be at your company? Is your organization ready for the next new big idea? When we make room for and encourage creative thinking, innovation happens.

2009 Provides a Unique Opportunity to Impact Employee Loyalty

Posted by Aaron Green May 18, 2009 01:22 PM

The current recession is bringing out the best and worst behaviors from managers. Management’s actions will have a significant impact on employee loyalty for years to come. Let’s take a look at some examples:


What’s in a Name? Strategies for Reviving a Culture During Turbulent Times

Posted by Elaine Varelas May 4, 2009 10:06 AM

By Elaine Varelas

Manager of Customer Delight.
Chief People Officer.
Director of First Impressions.

These titles may seem like names for silly jobs you would only find in an offbeat company like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. In fact, these jobs do exist in the real world. You just may recognize them by their more staid monikers—Customer Service Representative, SVP Human Resources, and Receptionist.

But these job titles are anything but silly. In fact, they reflect a sound strategy for inspiring employees and reinvigorating a tired corporate culture. For resource-strapped HR managers (or Chief People Officers) looking to build enthusiasm and cohesiveness among recession-stricken troops, redefining roles and titles can give organizations a much-needed shot of adrenaline to motivate employees in a stilted economy.

Could these unconventional titles work in your organization? Do job titles really matter? Do employees care what their job is called, as long as they know what they’re supposed to do? In fact, titles do matter. While there’s nothing wrong with light-hearted or whimsical titles, company leaders should not just make up outrageous or extraordinary titles just to placate anxious workers. This isn’t just a distraction technique—producing rainbows, teddy bears, and balloons in place of bonuses and promotions—to while away the time until the economy rebounds. This is a legitimate strategy to better define people’s roles and responsibilities in the organization and get them excited about the work they do.

As we all learned in grade school, language is powerful. It can frame the way people look at themselves their careers and the organization. It also sends a message to clients, customers, and leaders. This is who we are, what we stand for, and what we want to be. This is a way to help people take pride in their jobs and their organizations.

If titles are assigned creatively and purposely, people may have an even better understanding of their role in the company. By giving people impressive and directive job titles and descriptions, organizational leaders and HR managers can help improve the company’s culture in an economical way. It can also help boost productivity and morale at a time when the economy has placed many employees on edge.

Redefining people’s titles can also help them hone in on their job responsibilities, especially if the new titles are framed in terms of expectations and results. The titles should explain the roles’ main focus. For example, the title of Corporate Trainer could be changed to Director of Managerial Expertise. Instead of the title describing what the person does (I train people), it can mirror what the person is responsible for accomplishing (I help managers refine their skills). Creating this results-driven type of title can help give employees a renewed sense of purpose in their workdays.


What to Expect when Recruiting this Year’s College Grads

Posted by Aaron Green April 19, 2009 11:40 AM

This year’s class of college graduates will face their share of challenges in this new employment market. What can employers expect when hiring from the class of 2009 and what is the best way to approach recruiting this year’s college graduates?


Culture Club - Redefining and Communicating an Organization’s Culture After a Major Change

Posted by Jesse Nunes April 6, 2009 08:41 AM

By Elaine Varelas

These tumultuous economic times have caused severe upheaval in many organizations. Some companies are closing their doors, others are laying off huge numbers of people, and many are merging with others just to survive. This type of disruption can stun a company and its employees. An organization is forever altered after a major change, and employees may be left wondering: What happened? Who are we now? Is my job safe? Do I even want to work for this “new” organization?

It can be torturous to be one of the “walking wounded,” those who survived the firing squad—at least this time around. Yes, they are the lucky ones who still receive a paycheck, but their workload may be doubled (or tripled), many of their friends and colleagues are gone, and they could even have a new boss or department. Adding to their anxiety is that they may be working for a different leadership team and may no longer have a clear understanding of what the company does, stands for, or is trying to accomplish.

One way HR managers can help an organization and its employees to recover more quickly from a recession-induced set-back is to focus on the organization’s culture. Oftentimes, company leaders are swift to re-set the direction of the organization. This can even happen as a result of the major change, if a company sheds a department or tightens its service offerings. As the business focus shifts, however, it is imperative that these changes be communicated to employees, and that the culture of the organization also be re-set to reflect the new workplace reality.


Boomers and Gen Y: Bridging the Generation Gap

Posted by Aaron Green March 16, 2009 12:00 PM

On opposite ends of the generation timeline in today’s workforce, Generation Y, or the Millennials, (those born after 1980) and the Baby Boomers (born before 1965) each have different approaches to their work. Both groups are influenced by their age, their experience and background, their peers, and their generation’s values.

While it would be too sweeping a generalization to tell you that all Boomers make the best managers or that everyone in Gen Y excels at working with new technology, it is important for HR managers to understand the differences in workers of these two very different generations, how to manage those differences in the workplace, and how they can best work together toward common goals.


About HR Columns

Featuring human resources advice and columns from The Boston Globe's On Staffing and Hire Authority writers.